Interior of Antwerp Cathedral

Peeter Neeffs the Elder (Flemish, about 1578-d. 1656/1661)

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As one of the largest Gothic churches in the Netherlands, Antwerp Cathedral was by far the most prominent center of Roman Catholic worship in the Spanish Netherlands. Contemporary viewers would have recognized its cavernous interior, which was ornamented by numerous works of art—including no less than three large masterpieces by Rubens. Neeffs’s painting depicts the cathedral’s long choir: if you look closely, you will notice several large altarpieces set against the tall piers on the right, with black epitaphs and stone sculptures above them. Rather than depicting this space during the rites of the Catholic mass, Neeffs has chosen to depict it at a less solemn moment, punctuated here and there by praying churchgoers, wandering visitors, and two frolicking dogs.

Indianapolis, Indiana native Robert G. Gossett, an American soldier, took possession of the painting near Hof, Germany, in 1945; {1} purchased by Caroline Marmon Fesler [1878-1960], Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1946; bequeathed to the John Herron Art Institute, now the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, in 1961.

{1} Gossett offered the painting to IMA Director, Wilbur D. Peat, in 1945, reporting that he received the painting by trade with a Russian officer, whereupon Peat contacted "The American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas" in Washington, D.C. for advice. The Department of State opened a file on this painting: it is included as #3 on the list "Objects Imported by Members of the Services Reported to the Commission to date, 30 April 1946" (NARA, College Park, Maryland, Ardelia Hall collection, RG59, lot 62, D-4, Box 1). In an effort to trace the former owner, correspondence was conducted by the State Department with several American embassies and archives, none of which proved conclusive (see ibid., Box 9). In 2003, research was begun anew at IMA enlisting the efforts of Sarah Jackson and her European colleagues at the Art Loss Register, but the former owner remains unidentified.

Object Information

Peeter Neeffs the Elder (Flemish, about 1578-d. 1656/1661)
creation date
oil on canvas
18 x 24-1/8 in.
27 x 34 in. (framed)
accession number
credit line
Bequest of Mrs. James W. Fesler
Public Domain
European Painting and Sculpture Before 1800

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