Food is art. Still life of yesterday and today at Snijders & Rockox House – Mondo

Tony Le Duc, Barok Cokeryen-Chicorei . Photo: © Tony Le Duc. Courtesy of Snijders & Rockox House

Mondo «On the seventeenth-century tables we would have found fruit, vegetables, veal and pork, hens, in short everything that today constitutes a more or less balanced diet, with the exception of potatoes, which at that time in Belgium had not yet arrived ».
Talk calmly Tony Le Duc while showing us a preview of his new photographic project, in one of the many rooms of Snijders & Rockox House the elegant palace inhabited in the seventeenth century by the humanist, patron and burgomaster Nicolaas Rockox, reopened on February 24th after a recent restoration that has given back to visitors this most fascinating baroque jewel ever.

a painter of still lifes, Frans Snijders, his neighbor, occupied the adjacent building for 20 years, still on Keizerstraat, joined today to the house of Rockox to compose a single large complex.
Starting from the next 28 September and until 13 January 2019 the building that owes its name to the two key figures of Antwerp in the Baroque era, will be at the center of an exhibition that will see the shots of Le Duc, the most important culinary photographer of Belgium, next to the paintings of the seventeenth-century painter Frans Snijders in a spectacular feast for the eyes that will raise food and cuisine to authentic form art.

Cokeryen – this is the title of the exhibition – is part of the great celebrations of Antwerp Baroque 2018. Rubens Inspires the long-awaited festival , starting from June, and for a whole year, will celebrate the baroque tradition and its most illustrious representative.
«The project – explains Le Duc – began with the reading of a rare book of recipes of the seventeenth century . This illuminating study allowed me to immerse myself in the Baroque culinary atmosphere and to discover the ingredients, the flavors spread among our ancestors, over 400 years ago. This interview was followed by interviews with fifteen chefs from Antwerp whom I met personally and to whom I asked to prepare some dishes inspired by the Baroque, with the same colors of the food that we can admire in the paintings, but with the ingredients arranged in a different way. And so I made the shots building the composition in a very different way than the ancient painters, combining, in a completely new and original, spices and flavors. The photograph will be printed twice. A copy will be placed on display – but the way in which the paintings of the seventeenth century will be arranged to dialogue with Tony's images remains top secret ed – and the other will be placed in each of the restaurants involved in the project. In total there will be around 15 pieces ".

So let's imagine the new performance of Le Duc for the Snijders & Rockox House, allowing us a walk through the halls of this authentic treasure trove of treasures and wonders.
«An idea leads to another» replies the artist when we invite him to anticipate the next projects, while he accompanies us through the rooms of the museum and grants some shots with the smartphone to fish and molluscs expertly prepared by Snijder in the exceptional canvas Fish Market in Antwerp .

Tony Le Duc intent on taking a picture of the canvas by Frans Snijders, Fish Market in Antwerp

It is one of the many amazing works of the painter, in which cats, crabs, hens, birds, quartered roe deers lead the visitor in everyday life, among the laid tables and the kitchens of the seventeenth century, as in a fascinating journey through time.
And we would be hours to scrutinize those fat prey, sinking our gaze between meats and vegetables and succulent fruits, a brilliant photograph of a century of peace.

« With the restoration of our museum explains the curator Hildegard van de Velde who accompanies us on our visit – we wanted to transform this important building in Antwerp into a 360 ° experience, in which the visitor has the opportunity to wander through the paintings of Snijders, taste the furniture of the seventeenth century, the panoramic views and the untidy nature of Hans Bol, and still admire the terracotta sculptures, and even listen to the sound of the instruments of the time in the music room, abandoning themselves to a relaxing concert ».

Some panels touch screen attract our attention and visitors. They reproduce one of the many paintings on display. «Touching the screen with the finger, in correspondence with each subject – explains Hildegard van de Velde – a brief caption appears with the story of that particular painting, the identity of the represented subject and the motifs they pushed the artist to represent it ". An important expedient to enter the work, to scrutinize it, to understand it.

A room of the Rokox & Snijders House © Snijders & Rockoxhuis

And then there are the tablets, which the visitor can take with him at the entrance of the museum to point them towards the works he encounters during the journey, in a sort of solitary guided tour.
In this feast of still life, mythological scenes and hunting, where color is the master, there is no shortage of the paintings of the benjamis, like the portrait of Nicolaas Rockox by van Dyck or the one by Gaspard Gevartius, made by Rubens – from the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp, temporarily closed for restoration – or again the Christ on the Cross also by Rubens, part of the collection de Snijders & Rockox House, the Adoration of the Child by Mary a study for a human head by van Dyck, and still pieces by Brueghel the Elder a spectacular Flemish Proverbs of Brueghel the Younger or the domestic scenes of David Teniers the Younger, populated by elderly women and peasants with happy looks or monkeys playing cards.

Pieter Brueghel II, Proverbs © KBC Antwerpen Snijders & Rockoxhuis

And here the kitchen of Rockox with the pantry – or "keuckenschappraye", as it was called all 'era – with dishes, pots and bowls, spoons, cups and forks, a selection of Wanli Chinese porcelain. Walking around the museum, the look gets caught up in hundreds of objects and curiosities, such as the seventeenth-century foot warmer the old press for ironing linen, a mug for beer, a container for cooling wine or the delicate Venetian-style glasses.
And it could be continued for a long time to describe the many beauties of this magical casket that, crossing the threshold at number 10 of Keizerstraat, catapults us into a unique atmosphere. The last stage of this incredible journey between art and photography of yesterday and today is the garden that « in spring – assures Hildegard – is a fragrant riot of orange trees, oleanders rosemary and tulips ».
In this little oasis of peace Rockox spent part of his time and in some moments of the day you can hear the bells of the nearby church of San Carlo Borromeo. Still the scents of spring seem to sluggish lazily under the last marzoline rains. But when the tribute of Antwerp to the Baroque begins in June, this corner of paradise, like the entire building that houses it, will be even more seductive.
We greet Le Duc and Hildegard asking the artist for a possible exhibition in Italy. «If he invites me – he jokes – I will gladly come back!».

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