Between the city’s red-light district and the striking red hulk of the new MAS museum, are the Antwerp city archives, housed in a former shipping warehouse. Here, rather fittingly, I spent several days poring over sixteenth-century passport applications and export documents. At the archive, I was looking for any mention of one artist – Maerten de Vos – either leaving town or witnessing other applications for travel. While I did not find de Vos’s own travel application, I did find several others that may help me understand why de Vos left the city around 1550 to work in Italy.
I am interested in de Vos’s travels because they resulted in a truly extraordinary career. For de Vos was, in many ways, the first globally recognized artist. Many Netherlandish artists traveled to Italy in the sixteenth century to learn in foreign workshops and to work for various courts. But de Vos did not stay abroad. He returned to Antwerp a few years later and never left the Low Countries again. His works however, would be exported all over the globe: to Mughal India, China and to viceregal Mexico. I believe the experience of travelling abroad, the contacts de Vos made while away and upon his subsequent return, allowed for this later success. My current research project, Maerten de Vos: a Renaissance life in-between, is a microhistory of this understudied artist and his works. De Vos lived at a moment when Europeans began to identify themselves as “Western,” at the inauguration of the globalized world. De Vos’s life and the circulation of his work exhibit tensions familiar today: between warring religious believers and political powers, Western and non-Western cultures.
During my three weeks in the Low Countries, I tracked down the visual evidence of de Vos’s multi-faceted career: portraits of Calvinist merchants, the numerous altarpieces he designed for Catholic churches and a magnificent Lutheran chapel he designed for the Lutheran Duke of Lüneburg at Celle. In the archive, I catalogued de Vos’s numerous appearances as a civic witness, vouching for the identity of Antwerp artists and arguing for the preservation of local artworks when the Calvinist city government looked to sell off church altarpieces in the 1580s. I also traced the artist’s doctrinal history; he was documented as a Lutheran before prudently reconverting to the prevailing Catholic faith when the Spanish returned to power in 1585. In the Rubenianum, a research center named after Antwerp’s most famous artist Peter Paul Rubens, I conducted further research on his virtually forgotten predecessor. For Rubens’ illustrious career would have been inconceivable without the model of de Vos’s success.
This research trip was generously supported by a Lurcy grant from the School of Liberal Arts, as well as research grant from the Renaissance Society of America. It was the best kind of research trip, one that produced both answers and more questions. I am extremely grateful for the Lurcy Endowment and this opportunity to launch this project. I look forward to continuing my research.
The Lurcy Endowment was established in 2000 and created to help support research by faculty of the School of Liberal Arts. The grants can be used to help support individual faculty travel to research collections or to help pay for the costs of purchasing essential materials for faculty research.
In 2014, more the $42,000 was awarded from the Lurcy Endowment to aid in faculty research related activities and needs.
The 2014 Lurcy Recipients are John Allen, Rebecca Atencio, Michael Cohen, Teresa Cole, Jean Dangler, Martin Dimitrov, Michelle Foa, Katharine Jack, Grant McCall, Laura McKinney, Tatsuya Murakami, Stephanie Porras, Anthony Sandoval, Dmitry Troyanovsky, Justin Wolfe.