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Portrait of Cardinal Matthias Hovius (Mechelen, 1542-Affligem, 1620)

Origin Belgium
Period Pre 18th Century
Materials oil on panel, handpainted
Dimensions
W. 28.35 in; H. 40.94 in;
W. 72 cm; H. 104 cm;
Condition Good.
Creation Date c. 1596-1620
Description In the Spanish 'friar's chair' or 'sillon frailer (an armchair with velvet upholstery fixed to the wooden frame using round nails), the stately man is none other than one of the former archbishops of Mechelen, Matthias Hovius (Mechelen, 1542-Affligem, 1620). He studied theology and philosophy at the Pope's College in Leuven and obtained his degree in theology in 1569. After being chaplain for a while at the St. Peter and St. Paul's Church in Mechelen, he was appointed canon of the St. Rumbold's Chapter in 1577. Five years later, he became an archdeacon. Finally, in 1596 he obtained the prestigious office of Archbishop. Hovius played an essential role in implementing the rules of the Counter-Reformation in the Spanish Netherlands. In the top right corner is the archepiscopal coat of arms. The first and fourth quarters of the coat of arms show a red lion on yellow ground. The second and third quarters, at their turn, show green leaves on a mound on the argent ground. The arms of Mechelen are combined with the royal arms of Scotland. St Rumold can explain this, the patron saint of Mechelen, was of Scottish descent. We read the motto under the coat of arms; we read the motto: "Superat patientia forte", which means "Patience conquers the mighty".

Matthias Howius seems to be holding a Bible in his right hand.
Most likely, the painting was inspired by a portrait now kept in the Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle (inv. n° B.M. 261) in the United Kingdom ( https://www.vads.ac.uk/digital/collection/NIRP/id/27691/rec/1). The copy of Spectandum is somewhat simplified in décor. Unlike the Bowes Museum portrait, there is no panelling, nor curtain here. Hovius does not wear a priest's beret on his head. The hat is on the table next to him. In our portrait, Hovius is holding a Bible and not a text sheet. On the original copy, there is a book and a written sheet on the table. Finally, the backrest with round copper nails is more beautiful elaborated on the original.
There is much disagreement about the author of the original painting in the Bowes Museum. Initially, the image was attributed to Philippe de Champaigne because of an inscription("'AN 1612 AETATIS SVAE 70 PV. CHAMPAGNE'). This attribution was rejected on the grounds of chronology. When the portrait was cleaned, it turned out that the date was not 1642 but 1612. In that year, De Champaigne was only ten years old. The Beguinage Church of Mechelen owns a portrait of a standing Matthias Hovius with a text sheet in his hand (https://nl.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bestand:Lucas_Franchoys_de_Oudere_(1574%E2%80%931643)_-_Matthias_Hovius_in_de_Begijnhofkerk_te_Mechelen.png). Formally, this painting seems to be close to the Spectandum version. According to a former sexton of the Beguinage Church, Jan van Asch (1906), the artist might be Lucas Franchoys, the Elder. Art historian Anthony Blunt takes a very different line. He thinks that the work in the Bowes Museum belongs to the Italian School. The attribution of the Spectandum portrait depends on that of the picture in the Bowes Museum. It is certainly not inconceivable that the image was painted by the Mechelen portraitist Lucas Franchoys the Elder or his studio. He had a reputation and worked mainly in his hometown.
Styles / Movements Traditional
Dealer Reference Number CE_0129
Incollect Reference Number 493537
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