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Saunterings - Ghent And Antwerp Post by :jamesc96 Category :Nonfictions Author :Charles Dudley Warner Date :May 2012 Read :2596

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Saunterings - Ghent And Antwerp

What can one do in this Belgium but write down names, and let memory recall the past? We came to Ghent, still a hand some city, though one thinks of the days when it was the capital of Flanders, and its merchants were princes. On the shabby old belfry-tower is the gilt dragon which Philip van Artevelde captured, and brought in triumph from Bruges. It was originally fetched from a Greek church in Constantinople by some Bruges Crusader; and it is a link to recall to us how, at that time, the merchants of Venice and the far East traded up the Scheldt, and brought to its wharves the rich stuffs of India and Persia. The old bell Roland, that was used to call the burghers together on the approach of an enemy, hung in this tower. What fierce broils and bloody fights did these streets witness centuries ago! There in the Marche au Vendredi, a large square of old-fashioned houses, with a statue of Jacques van Artevelde, fifteen hundred corpses were strewn in a quarrel between the hostile guilds of fullers and brewers; and here, later, Alva set blazing the fires of the Inquisition. Near the square is the old cannon, Mad Margery, used in 1382 at the siege of Oudenarde,--a hammered-iron hooped affair, eighteen feet long. But why mention this, or the magnificent town hall, or St. Bavon, rich in pictures and statuary; or try to put you back three hundred years to the wild days when the iconoclasts sacked this and every other church in the Low Countries?

Up to Antwerp toward evening. All the country flat as the flattest part of Jersey, rich in grass and grain, cut up by canals, picturesque with windmills and red-tiled roofs, framed with trees in rows. It has been all day hot and dusty. The country everywhere seems to need rain; and dark clouds are gathering in the south for a storm, as we drive up the broad Place de Meir to our hotel, and take rooms that look out to the lace-like spire of the cathedral, which is sharply defined against the red western sky.

Antwerp takes hold of you, both by its present and its past, very strongly. It is still the home of wealth. It has stately buildings, splendid galleries of pictures, and a spire of stone which charms more than a picture, and fascinates the eye as music does the ear. It still keeps its strong fortifications drawn around it, to which the broad and deep Scheldt is like a string to a bow, mindful of the unstable state of Europe. While Berlin is only a vast camp of soldiers, every less city must daily beat its drums, and call its muster-roll. From the tower here one looks upon the cockpit of Europe. And yet Antwerp ought to have rest: she has had tumult enough in her time. Prosperity seems returning to her; but her old, comparative splendor can never come back. In the sixteenth century there was no richer city in Europe.

We walked one evening past the cathedral spire, which begins in the richest and most solid Gothic work, and grows up into the sky into an exquisite lightness and grace, down a broad street to the Scheldt. What traffic have not these high old houses looked on, when two thousand and five hundred vessels lay in the river at one time, and the commerce of Europe found here its best mart. Along the stream now is a not very clean promenade for the populace; and it is lined with beer-houses, shabby theaters, and places of the most childish amusements. There is an odd liking for the simple among these people. In front of the booths, drums were beaten and instruments played in bewildering discord. Actors in paint and tights stood without to attract the crowd within. On one low balcony, a copper-colored man, with a huge feather cap and the traditional dress of the American savage, was beating two drums; a burnt-cork black man stood beside him; while on the steps was a woman, in hat and shawl, making an earnest speech to the crowd. In another place, where a crazy band made furious music, was an enormous "go-round" of wooden ponies, like those in the Paris gardens, only here, instead of children, grown men and women rode the hobby-horses, and seemed delighted with the sport. In the general Babel, everybody was good-natured and jolly. Little things suffice to amuse the lower classes, who do not have to bother their heads with elections and mass meetings.

In front of the cathedral is the well, and the fine canopy of iron-work, by Quentin Matsys, the blacksmith of Antwerp, some of whose pictures we saw in the Museum, where one sees, also some of the finest pictures of the Dutch school,--the "Crucifixion" of Rubens, the "Christ on the Cross" of Vandyke; paintings also by Teniers, Otto Vennius, Albert Cuyp, and others, and Rembrandt's portrait of his wife,--a picture whose sweet strength and wealth of color draws one to it with almost a passion of admiration. We had already seen "The Descent from the Cross" and "The Raising of the Cross" by Rubens, in the cathedral. With all his power and rioting luxuriance of color, I cannot come to love him as I do Rembrandt. Doubtless he painted what he saw; and we still find the types of his female figures in the broad-hipped, ruddy-colored women of Antwerp. We walked down to his house, which remains much as it was two hundred and twenty-five years ago. From the interior court, an entrance in the Italian style leads into a pleasant little garden full of old trees and flowers, with a summer-house embellished with plaster casts, and having the very stone table upon which Rubens painted. It is a quiet place, and fit for an artist; but Rubens had other houses in the city, and lived the life of a man who took a strong hold of the world.

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