…master builder of the Saint Augustine church
Wenzel Coebergher was an exceptional man, but he was overshadowed by Rubens and other great Antwerpians and consequently forgotten. His name appears as Wenzel, Wenzeslas, Wenceslas, Coeberger, Cobergher etc. Maybe his many names say something about the many faces of this painter, archeologist, architect, hydraulic engineer, economist and chemist… who was born in Antwerp around 1561.
When he was thirteen he became the apprentice of Maarten De Vos. Five years later he left for Paris via Italy. From 1580 until1590 he worked in Naples with fellow patriots Cornelius De Smet and (later) Jacob Frankaert. From 1591 until 1598 he stayed in Rome. His fame quickly grew. As owner of an impressive coin collection he published a self-illustrated book about antique coins called the tractatus de picture antique. Even though he continued to paint for a long time – and even though he continued to receive orders for paintings from Antwerp – architecture became more and more his favorite work.
In 1599 his first wife, Michaela Cerf died. Barely five months later, he remarried Suzanna Frankaert, the fifteen year old sister of his companion Jacob. Five years later he returned to the Netherlands where he was appointed as court architect of the archdukes. In that function and thanks to his experience in Italy, he would, together with his brother-in-law Jacob Frankaert, play an important role in introducing the baroque style into the south of the Netherlands. Starting in 1607 he would build both the church of the Carmelites in Brussels (demolished in 1785) and, between 1609 and 1618, the Our-Dear-Lady-Basilica of Scherpenheuvel in that style. After which he designed the city hall of Ath and the Saint Augustine church in Antwerp.
As hydraulic engineer he worked at the court of Brussels and in the park of Tervuren. He also made drawings for the canals in the Kempen and Brabant, but he was best known for draining the area of the Moeren between Veurne and Hondschote (from 1622). As a chemist he had at his disposal patent letters to make potash. As an economist he introduced the Bergen van Barmhartigheid, social housing to the letter, resulting in him becoming a master estate steward. In Ghent, Namur and Bergen he also developed buildings for this purpose.
This ‘uomo universale’ passed away in 1634 in Brussels, where he was buried in the Miniemen church.