SCHEEMAEKERS, Petrus the Elder
(b. 1652, Antwerpen, d. 1714, Arendonk)
Memorial of the Van Delft and Keurlinckx Families1688
White, red and black marble
O.-L. Vrouwekathedraal, Antwerp
Most of the works of Scheemaekers was in the field of religious art - memorials, altars and so forth. He trained no fewer than nineteen apprentices (among them his son Pieter Scheemaekers the Younger who became a significant sculptor), and the numerous designs he produced for other artists indicate the esteem in which his colleagues held him. His imaginative oeuvre belongs to the late Baroque period, with powerful and dynamic figures represented with great elegance.
This macabre sculpture group is a memorial to two families. People used to commission monuments like this for themselves or for deceased relatives, in the hope of being remembered in worshippers' prayers.
Death rises from the grave in the shape of a skeleton wrapped in a shroud to seize a fleeing young man. The inverted torch held by the little angel on the left is a symbol of death. At the top Father Time, a winged old man, holds an hourglass and pulls aside the curtain, assisted by the angels. The large horn next to him refers to the transience of wordly things, bulging as it does with objects of all kinds - a book, an orb with a laurel crown, a bishop's mitre, a mask and a cudgel. A bishop's crook sticks out on the left. At the very bottom of the monument, a snake curls around the medallion containing the family's coat of arms. The snake trying to bite its own tail is a symbol of eternity. The flaming sword and the palm branch behind the medallion evoke the Last Judgment and divine justice. The skull with bat's wings is, of course, another allusion to death.
Frightening images of this kind are not unusual for 17th-century memorials and tombs. The moral they convey is that life is fleeting and death implacable, so people should think about the salvation of their souls without delay.