Hendrik Frans Verbruggen

It is especially the artwork and constructions of the sculptor Hendrik Frans Verbruggen which give the Antwerp Saint Augustine church its baroque character. 

The family Verbruggen or Verbrugghen was known as a family of sculptors from the 17th and 18th century. They were primarily active in Antwerp. Pieter the elder (1615-1686) was one of the foremost representatives of Flemish high baroque.  He married the daughter of Erasmus the first (1584 – 1640) Quellin, the forefather of another famous sculptor’s family.

The high altar for the Saint Andries church, the altar of the “Sweet Name” and the organ in the Saint Paulus church are all made by Pieter Verbruggen the elder. Pieter the younger (1648-1691) and Hendrik Frans Verbruggen (1654-1724) both apprenticed under their father. After they had completed the classic trip to Italy, Pieter stayed with his father to work in their studio together, where he was mainly responsible for the actual sculpting. He also collaborated on the altar of Our-Dear-Lady in the cathedral and the high altar of the Saint Paulus church.

His brother, Hendrik Frans was one of the trend-setting masters of late baroque church furniture. Some of his more famous works other than the Saint Augustine church include the decoration of the western exterior portal of the Saint Jacob’s church in Antwerp (1694). This pulpit was moved on the orders of Maria Theresia in 1776 to the Brussels Saint Michael church where it can still be seen today. Other works include the pulpit of the Saint Pieter church in Mechelen in 1700, the high altar of Saint Baafs in Ghent, and diverse communion pews, among them those of the Antwerp cathedral.  

Many of Hendrik Frans’ design drawings have been preserved. They illustrate how, through his efforts, the late baroque altar was developed.  Due to the primarily elliptic floor plan the altar had more depth than previous versions, including those designed by his own father. Hendrik Frans designed these more three dimensional altars with the steadfast intention of placing a sculpture inside of it and not a painting.  Sint-Baafs’ altar is a clear example of this.

In this way, the semi-circular arch above Ruben’s painting in the high altar of the Saint Augustine church stands out. Indeed, it has a depth that isn’t in proportion to the painting. Experts consider this a technical error. The arch was more suitable before the painting was placed in it.

Hendrik Frans Verbruggen is also known as one of the pioneers of the so-called naturalistic pulpits. They are encompassed in one large sculpture where nothing of the constructive form is visible. The pulpit of the Saint Augustine church is a modest example of this style. The pulpit of the Jesuits in Leuven is a more monumental version.