Project for a Monument to the Mayor Jean de Locquenghien - Gilles-Lambert Godecharle

Project for a Monument to the Mayor Jean de Locquenghien

Gilles-Lambert GODECHARLE
(Brussels 1750 - id. 1835)

Terra-cotta
H. 0,28 m; W. 0,13 m; P. 0,115 m
Signed and dated on the column: Godecharle / in f / 1815

Date: 1815

Provenance: Collection Hankar, Florimont
Collection M. Daems, Brussels
Private collection, Paris

Exhibited: Bruxelles, 1930, Exposition d’œuvres choisies d’artistes belges du XVIIIe siècle, Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, no. 77.

Literature: Marguerite Devigne, Laurent Delvaux et ses élèves. De la parenté d’inspiration des artistes flamands du XVIIe et du XVIIIe siècle, Bruxelles, 1928, p. 111.

After the release from napoleonic dominion, patriotic fervor arose all over Europe. During this time, Jean de Locquenghien’s personality crystallized the national fiber of Brussels elite. And in 1815, this illustrious magistrate was the model for a sculpting competition at the Brussels Salon.

Jean de Locquenghien, Lord of Melsbroeck, was born January 27th, 1517 or 1518. Member of the Sleeu dynasty, he played a leading political role in Brussels. Local councillor from 1547 till 1548, mayor in 1549, 1550 and 1553, treasurer from 1551 to 1552, he became Amman of the Ammanie of Brussels in 1554, function which he kept until his death in 1573 or 1574. Avid to improve the capital of the Spanish Netherlands economically, he never stopped fighting for the project of digging a channel connecting Brussels to the sea, via Rupel and the Schelde. Through sheer stubbornness, he managed to convince the Spanish authorities of the legitimacy of this channel. Finally, on June the 11th, 1550, after years of procrastinations and the crowns final authorization, he launched the dig of the canal, shoveling the first bit of soil. Eleven years later, under the supervisation of the architect George Rinaldi, the work was done. It was due to this channel the city that Brussels prospered for a long time.

And so it was that this symbolic figure of the city’s past glory was chosen by the new bourgeoisie to be honored as a subject of the first sculpting competition of Brussels young and promising Société royale pour l’Encouragement des beaux-arts. One of the two Grootaers brothers from Malines with a bas-relief with several figures (cat. 16) competed against Charles Malay (Brussels 1775-1836), a pupil of Godecharle. Malay won the, but his statue regrettably disappeared.

In spite of his old age, Godecharle was the supreme authority on sculpture in Brussels. He was part of all the commitees and his implication in the choice of Jean de Locquenghien as a subject makes no doubt. By choosing a subject that fascinated him, did he went to indirectly measure up to the candidates ? Was he trying to get commissioned for a monumental statue that the town council had planned in a collective patriotic haze ? Through this statue, did he aim to erase the resentement he was a victim of for having enthusiastically built a flattering monument to honor Napoleon’s visit of 1810 ? We do not know.

Godecharle posed Jean de Locquenghien standing, leaning lighlty against a truncated column. The major holds in one hand his panache hat and in the other a map of a river. At his feet, among some reeds, a naked child is sitting on a jar, spilling water. He symbolizes the wholesome profit which the channel assured to Brussels. On the back of the statue are various objects of maritime and economical nature, symbolising the wealth that the town got from this canal. Godecharle showed an anchor, a helm, a rolled up rope and bundles. The base on which the truncated column rests is decorated with two quickly sketched bas-reliefs. On the first one is the holy archangel Saint Michael, patron of the city of Brussels. On other one, it is probably Danaé receiving a golden rain, a symbol of the earth suffering from drought on which a fertilizing rain falls from the sky, another image of the fortune which the restoring of the business did not miss to bring to the city, thanks to the channel. The letters SPQB on the socle mean Senatus Populusque Bruxellanus. A reminder that the mayor represents Brussels.

This statuette can be considered as one of the first Belgian examples of a historical statuary. In a country that got its independence in 1830 and that often glorified its heroes, this statue mania developed immensely.

This work of Godecharle has the charm of the first historicism still completely marked by an 18th century spirit, in the elegance of the heroic preservation of the character, the slim proportions of his body, the eclecticism of the costume, the profusion objects and the delicacy of the modeling. The clothing is indeed a picturesque mixture of parts of clothes from the 17th and 18th century, while Locquenghien lived in the 16th century. The same 'troubadour' getup is noticeable in the previous terra-cotta sculpture of the artist, Minerva protecting the children of the House of Nassau (1796, Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts, Belgium). Until the end of his long artistic career in 1835, Godecharle remained an artist of the Age of the Enlightenment.

Modeled by the 18th century’s important sculpting tradition, this sketch is a perfect example of Gilles-Lambert Godecharle’s talent, master in the handling of terra-cotta. It is also a rarity, for almost all of his terra-cotta models are kept in the Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, that inherited Godecharle’s remaing work after his death. Its reappearance on the art market is thus an exceptional event. Let us mention the acquisition in 1998 by the Metropolitan Museum of the modello of Victoire (of the castle of Laeken), and in 2001 that by the Musée du Louvre of the Pan prosecutor Syrinx, model of the stone group formerly in the gardens of the castle of Wespelaere.

This information sheet is based on a text by Alain Jacobs.

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