Willebeeck is a rare still life painter who was active in Antwerp in the second quarter of the 17th century. He was influenced by Jan Davidsz. de Heem.
Our painting is a symbolic representation of the Holy Communion:
- the pelican and the grapes stand for the wine;
- the Eucharist and the wheat stand for the bread.
About Petrus Willebeeck
Flemish painter who worked in Antwerp.
No data known. Activity documented between 1632 and 1648.
Very rare painter of flower, fruit, Pronk and Vanitas still lifes.
From the year 1632/1633 pupil of Edwaert Snayers. That year Snayers, today a forgotten painter, became Dean of the Painter’s Guild of Saint Luke in Antwerp.
Willebeeck joined the Antwerp Painter’s Guild as a Master only in the year 1647/1648. As this is fifteen years after he started studying painting, he must have been active abroad after his studies; therefore there is no trace of him in local documents.
Our painter was influenced by the major still life painter of the Low Countries, Jan Davidsz. de Heem (Utrecht 1606 – 1684 Antwerp). Following his early years in Leiden de Heem is documented from 1636 onwards in Antwerp. He probably returned to his birthplace Utrecht in the early 1660s, but left again for Antwerp after the French advance to Utrecht in the so-called “disaster year” of 1672. He remained here until his death in 1684.
There is very little information known about our painter.
Willebeeck had one pupil, in the very year that he returned to Antwerp, the Dutchman Pieter Cosijn. Cosijn (1630 – 166/67) had been a pupil of the portrait painter Pieter Nason in The Hague in 1647. In 1648 he was an apprentice of Willebeeck for less than half a year in Antwerp. He returned to The Hague and settled, not as a portrait painter, nor as a still life painter, but as a landscape painter.
Willebeeck probably worked from time to time with other painters, for example :
- in the garland of fruit around a female bust, unsold at Christie’s New York, 26/01/01, with Erasmus Quellinus II;
- possibly with Carstian Luyckx in the Pronk still life sold at Sotheby’s New York, 28/01/10.
Willebeeck’s paintings are always of a particularly fine quality in drawing of fruit and other elements of still life.
His work can be compared to certain pictures by Joris van Son (Antwerp 1623 – 1667 Antwerp), who had also been strongly influenced by de Heem, but his execution is softer in technique. Not all Willebeeck’s pictures are signed. There is only one dated painting known by him, from 1647.
About our painting
Most of Willebeeck’s paintings represent Vanitas still lifes: they are about the transience of earthly glory and pleasures. Vanitas still lifes are meditations on the ephemeral character of life: on the vanity of beauty, knowledge, power, pleasure, music, of life itself. They inspire their viewers to think about life, death and resurrection.
Our painting is a symbolic representation of Redemption through the Holy Eucharist.
The central reliquary, holding a host with the representation of the crucifixion of Christ, is topped by a pelican. The pelican, with its red beak, symbolizes the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and it stands for the Eucharistic wine. An ancient legend told that in time of famine, a mother pelican wounded herself, striking her breast with the beak to feed her young with her blood to prevent starvation. In another version the mother saves her dying young but dies herself.
On either side of the Host one sees an angel holding a thurible.
I thank that under both angels are represented the Magi.
Left of the central reliquary stands a silver thurible. During worship incense is burned in its metal censer, while the thurifer swings it around.
On either side of the entablement stands a so-called pineapple cup holding wheat, which refers to bread in the Holy Communion and further to the body of Christ. As wheat is sown and burried in the earth, to live again in spring, so will man be reborn after his resurerection.
The grapes refer through wine to the blood of Christ.
Why should you buy this painting?
Because this powerful and colourful painting is one of the most exuberant and self confident Baroque representations of Redemption, of the Catholic belief in the liberation of sin and in the expression of faith and of obedience to Christ. Just compare our bomb of a painting to the gentle, conventional and rather boring images of most contemporary Flemish painters, such as van der Baren and van Kessel.