Willem Kerricx the Elder (Dendermonde, 1652 – Antwerp, 1719)

Antwerp – 1684
49 x 24 cm

Acquisition, 1999

Major works | Earthly & Spiritual Matters

A Baroque sculpture

This terracotta statue, called Penance, is a sketch for the project intended for the confessional in Saint-Paul Church in Antwerp. It is fully in keeping with the movement of the Counter-Reformation which made the sacrament of penance a necessary spiritual exercise for obtaining Salvation.

Willem Kerricx introduces various symbols to guide believers in repenting. The hair shirt, draped over the right arm of Penance, recalls the need for mortification to atone for one’s sins. At the foot of the sculpture, an eagle with outstretched wings poised to fly away, perched on both her feet, piques our curiosity. Is this the threatening symbol of the Last Judgement, calling the Christian to repent or, rather, is it the image of Faith taking to the skies? Unless, of course, this eagle is actually a pelican! The link with our allegory takes on a more relevant meaning in this case, for the animal tapping the side with his beak to feed her babies with her blood may be interpreted as a gesture of mortification.

The interference of the Council of Trent in art is marked here by the desire to give emphasis to body movements and the expression of feelings. The reserved modesty of a shoulder barely revealed, the tension created by the movement of the head at odds with the arm and the tormented features of the face are all meant to move believers. By these various characteristics, this slender allegory, wearing a tunic with heavy, contrasted and agitated folds, is typical of the late Baroque style.