Pieter Snayers

(Antwerp, 1592 – Brussels, 1667)

Festival of the Guild of Crossbowmen outside the Church of Our Lady of Sablon

ca. 1651

oil on board

73 x 106.1 cm

Inv. no. 473

With an exquisite attention to detail that successfully conveys the festive spirit, this painting is an account of the celebrations of Catholic brotherhoods in Brussels while at the same time acting as a historical document of the split of the Low Countries into a Protestant Holland and a Catholic Flanders.

The painting was once believed to be the work of Adam Franz van der Meulen (1632-1690), and was thought to represent a visit of the court to the cathedral in Reims. In 1979, Matías Díaz Padrón attributed it to Snayers, identifying the scene as the festival of the guild of crossbowmen outside the Notre-Dame du Sablon church in Brussels on 23rd April 1651.

The portrait in the cartouche is undoubtedly that of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, who was ambassador to the Low Countries from 1647 to 1656. The archduke is also seen, in the tradition of the festival, shooting a crossbow by the church wall. It is very likely that an inscription, now unfortunately erased, would have proffered details about the festival.

The crossbowmen festival was represented on several occasions. Antoine Sallaert (1580-1650) did so in 1615, including the Archduchess Isabella Clara Eugenia in the depiction, and Snayers painted another version in a board now in the collections of the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, where he repeats many of the elements and characters we see here, like the architecture and landscape in the background, some isolated groups, like the carriage in the bottom right corner, and the portrait of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, although in the latter case it is shifted to the bottom right corner, with an identical model and very similar cartouche.