Lucas Faydherbe

Omphale, Queen of Lydia

Lucas Faydherbe was born in Mechelen in 1617. He was the son of Hendrik Faydherbe (1574 – 1629), who was a sculptor, a gilder and a decorator. From an early age, young Lucas was taught in his father’s workshop and, after his father’s death in 1629, in the workshop of his stepfather, the sculptor Maximilien d’Abbé. In 1636 Faydherbe came to Antwerp, where he began working in the workshop of Peter Paul Rubens, with whom he built a close personal and professional relationship. In a testimony dated 5th of April 1640 – two months before his death – Rubens commended Faydherbe for his excellent work. 

After marrying Maria Snyers in 1640, Faydherbe settled in his hometown, Mechelen. His wedding was probably the reason why he had to cancel his plans to visit Italy. Despite living to a ripe old age – he and his wife celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 1690 – he never would; indeed, he remains one of the very few leading baroque sculptors never to have visited Italy. On Rubens’ recommendation, the Mechelen city council exempted Faydherbe of all taxes; he would remain there for the rest of his life, several conflicts with the local guilds notwithstanding.

At the beginning of his career, commissions seem to have been hard to come by, but they multiplied after Andreas Crusen, archbishop of Mechelen, commissioned his grave monument from him in 1659. This commission was soon extended to include a new choir and high altar for the Sint – Rombouts cathedral (1665). Faydherbe’s fame soon spread and before long, he was taking part in the building of many churches and altars, such as the churches of Beveren-Waas (1661 – 1666) and Sint-Niklaas (1662-1665), and the churches of Leliëndaal (1662 – 1674) and Hanswijk (1663 – 1681), where he was active as an architect. During these years, Faydherbe’s workshop continued to produce many impressive sculptures, not only as church decorations but also for private commissions.

As a sculptor, Fayherbe was stylistically indebted to Rubens, especially in the early years of his career (1638 – 1645), when he represented many of Rubens’ models as looking heavy and monumental way, with heavy folds of drapery. It has often been stated that Faydherbe’s oeuvre evolved very little, yet closer study of his work has revealed that his sculpting style became more delicate and detailed during his transitional period (1645 – 1655), and this evolution would continue consistently after 1656. In his later period, faces and hands were treated more accurately, while facial expressions became softer and more natural. Drapery no longer defined the volume of the body, but began to cling to the flesh, in a more organic unity. 

Lucas Faydherbe’s influence on the development of high baroque art in the Southern Netherlands cannot be underestimated. Faydherbe had many talented pupils, such as Jan van Delen, Frans Langhemans, Jan-Frans Boeckstuyns and Frans van der Veken. Examples of sculptures by Faydherbe, which are exceedingly rare, are to be found in several major international museums, such as the V&A Museum (London), the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford), the Royal Museum of Art and History (Brussels), the Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge), the Louvre (Paris), the Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam), the Rubens House (Antwerp), the Museum of Fine Art (Ghent), the British Museum (London), the Prado (Madrid) and several monumental churches in Belgium. 

Faydherbe carved mainly sandstone, marble and ivory sculptures (Rubens owned six ivories by Faydherbe); no wood sculpture has ever been convincingly attributed to him. Occasionally he would sculpt in clay; in all, ten mythological busts and no more than five portrait busts in terracotta have been attributed to him. Supporting the attribution of this group of fifteen busts to Faydherbe is a pair of terracotta busts depicting Hercules and Omphale signed ‘FAYDH’, currently kept at the Hof van Busleyden Museum in Mechelen. 

According to Greek mythology, Hercules was punished for the inadvertent murder of Iphitus, son of Eurytus, by being remanded as a slave to the Lydian queen Omphale for a year. After some time, Omphale freed him and took him as her husband. This theme, inversion of sexual roles, has inspired many artists over the centuries. Faydherbe would repeat the motif of Hercules and Omphale several times in reliefs and in three known pairs of busts, including a bust of Hercules in the Victoria & Albert Museum (London), a pendant bust of Omphale in the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford), as well as the current, recently rediscovered bust depicting Omphale – the pendant of which is presumably still lost.

The Antwerp bust is close in style to the Mechelen bust, but slightly higher; the busts were probably produced to order in a specific size. Besides in size, the two busts also differ in such details as the hair, the drapery and the medallion. Stylistically, like the Mechelen bust, the current bust is more elegant and graceful than the more forceful and highly expressive Oxford bust. However, our bust shares some elements with the Oxford bust, such as the medallion, which the Mechelen version does not have. It is possible that in the case of the present Omphale, Faydherbe made these decorative and stylistic changes as requested by the private patron who commissioned the work.

Artist: Lucas Faydherbe (Mechelen 1617 - 1697)
Medium: terracotta
Dimensions: height 84 cm