He who has most sympathy with his subject will obtain the best results. Henry Ossawa Tanner

Mary’s Chapel in Loppersum

ArtWay Visual Meditation October 10, 2021

Mary’s Chapel in the Peter and Paul Church in Loppersum

A Groningen Representation of Mary

by Saskia van Lier

I am taking you to Loppersum, located in the province Groningen in the north east of the Netherlands, to the Mary’s chapel in the old Peter and Paul Church. In 1642 the Jesuit Father Mijleman was there. He pretended to be a cattle dealer in order to secretly make drawings of all the remnants of Catholicism in Groningen. In Loppersum he entered the church and rejoiced to see the paintings of Mary in the chapel. 

There had been an iconoclastic fury in 1566 in the Netherlands. Apparently this had not involved wall paintings. Perhaps it was too much trouble to whitewash them (plaster, scaffolding, manpower) or perhaps the people thought that they were beautiful. Perhaps it did not worry them because, as Protestants, they did not gather in the chapel anyway. Who knows? However, in later years the paintings were painted over, to be discovered and restored again in the last century.

I can understand Mijleman’s joy, because there are no fewer than eight paintings of Mary to be admired in the chapel, dating from 1490-1500. They are spread over two vaults and the scenes picture Mary’s mystery feasts. The first is the Immaculate Conception. We see Mary’s parents, Anna and Joachim, who receive in a miraculous (and immaculate) way a child under the golden gate in Jerusalem. But that golden gate of Jerusalem is exactly like the old Herepoort of Groningen! It is a grey gate with two bright-red brick towers on either side. The colour of the bricks is characteristic of the area. That brings this immaculate event very close to home. 

Via the Annunciation and Visitation we arrive at the Birth of Christ in the next vault. And where was he born? In a dilapidated stable built with the same red bricks. And when the wise men visited him, in the next painting, of course they brought their gifts. Actually, they brought liturgical utensils with them, probably because the Adoration of the Magi was performed in the church, in the play of the Three Kings. The wise man who is kneeling holds a ciborium (the chalice in which the consecrated hosts are kept), another holds a thurifer (incense burner). The last is a gothic monstrance, exactly the monstrance with which we are familiar from the collection of the Groningen Museum, which used to belong in the Martini Church in city of Groningen. And so we have a St Mary’s chapel with many allusions to Groningen. 

The Presentation of the Lord, also called the ‘Purification of St Mary,’ is the next Feast of Mary (February 2) that has been depicted on the vault. According to Jewish custom the firstborn son was dedicated to God. Mary and Joseph went to the temple with their newborn child and turtle doves. At the same moment a woman who had recently delivered a child would undergo a ritual purification. This feast is as much a feast of Christ as a feast of Mary. Christ was presented, Mary was purified. However, she also came to hear Simeon’s terrifying prophecy: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35). Mary’s many sorrows were foretold here.

The last scene portrays Mary’s Assumption into heaven. In this painting you could ask who is taking whom into heaven. A girl is carried by Christ and Christ is carried by angels. It is one of those glorious medieval mixtures of all sorts of stories: was Mary taken up in the body or just her soul, did Christ take her along or was she brought up by the angels? Something of everything, it seems.

If you may travel in the north of the Netherlands: nearly all the old churches in the area are worth a visit!


Unknown Artist: Paintings about Mary on the vaults of the St Mary’s Chapel in the Peter and Paul Church (1490-1500), in Loppersum, near Groningen, NL.

Saskia van Lier is a Dutch scholar of religion, specialising in the use of Christian art in the liturgical space. She is a freelance lecturer in this specialty. She also develops heritage projects for primary school pupils.



1. VIRTUAL EXHIBITION ART FOR CHANGE INDIA – 'Rooted | India' now online. We are delighted to invite you to our webpage 'Rooted | India', is a virtual exhibition with 61 artists from the length and breadth of India and from across the world. The artists respond to the prompt of what kept them rooted or grounded through the pandemic and through difficult times. We find inspiration and beauty through their stories and artwork. The project is in collaboration with Green Art Space in California. This collaborations fosters our organisational friendship and parallel commitments.

2. HOW CAN ART BRIDGE DIFFERENCES? – Artist Marianne Lettieri, art historian Rachel Hostetter Smith and Art for Change director Isaac Gergan had a conversation on CIVA's blog reflecting on the question of how art and artists can bridge differences that separate people. Here it is.

3. LECTURE BY BRIAN WHELAN – McGowan Center’s first “hybrid” event, taking place on Zoom but also before a limited in-person audience. London-born Irish artist Brian Whelan will present the 2021 Feast of St. Francis Lecture. This year’s lecture falls under the theme of “rebuilding the church,” but interpreted broadly and maybe better put: making room for the vertical dimension of life. The lecture is entitled "Praying the Game: How I Found My Place as an Artist in a Secular Age,” with a response from Lalaine Little, Director, Pauly Friedman Art Gallery, Misericordia University, USA. Whelan is that rare artist nowadays whose work often explores religious themes. His paintings have been exhibited and belong to collections throughout Europe and the United States. The Nobel Prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney described Whelan’s work as “bold and commanding”; the art critic Sister Wendy Beckett described it as “clear, strong, prayerful work, with joy at its center.” Another critic wrote, “It’s as if a medieval stonemason had been given a box of paints.” Here is a review, and here is a link to pictures of his paintings, which you’ll see are vibrant and playful. Register Here for Zoom Event

4. VCS SPOTLIGHT – Coptic and Ethiopic Art – This week VCS introduces the second series of ‘VCS Spotlights’. These Spotlight pages feature a particular artist or key groupings of artworks from our site. This Spotlight focuses on Ethiopic and Coptic works of art. Visit the page here.

5. TALK NEIL McGREGOR – 12 October, St. Martin’s in-the-Fields, online: Trusting the gods. Talk given by Neil McGregor, author and former Director of the British Museum. http://

6. CARAVAGGIO IN CAMEROON – 14 October, 16 – 17 h, National Museum, online: Caravaggio in Cameroon: Marc Padeu and Jennifer Sliwka in conversation. Marc Padeu’s monumental paintings often draw on Italian Baroque compositions and especially those of Caravaggio.  He joins Dr Jennifer Sliwka, specialist in Italian Renaissance and Baroque art, to discuss Padeu’s 'Le Souper a Penja' and its relationship to Caravaggio’s 'Supper at Emmaus', his adoption and adaptation of the visual language of the Baroque, and how these inform his evocations of contemporary life in Cameroon.

7. GOTT RAUS – KUNST REIN? - 29 Oktober – 31 Oktober, Ev. Akademie, Gesundbrunnen 11, Hofgeismar: Gott raus – Kunst rein? Positionen zum Verhältnis von Kunst und Kirche in der Gegenwart. In Kooperation mit der Artheon-Gesellschaft für Gegenwartskunst und Kirche e.V., Berlin. Vor einiger Zeit fragte der Kunstkritiker Hanno Rauterberg in der ZEIT, ob es zur aktuellen gesellschaftlichen Entwicklung gehöre, dass es im Blick auf den Kirchenraum heiße: „Gott raus, Kunst rein?“ Trifft das für das Verhältnis von Kunst und Kirche in der Gegenwart zu? Oder gibt es theologische Gründe, die Kunst in die Kirchen einzuladen und ästhetische Gründe, sich mit den Atmosphären des Religiösen und seinen Räumen auseinanderzusetzen? Was haben die Kirchen in den letzten 50 Jahren auf diesem Gebiet geleistet, ist es ihnen gelungen, nach einer langen Zeit der Abwendung von der zeitgenössischen Kunst, wieder auf Augenhöhe mit ihr zu kommen? Und wie sehen Künstler*innen diese Begegnungen, was bedeutet ihnen die Kirche als Arbeits- und Korrespondenzraum? Inwieweit ist dabei die documenta ein Maßstab gewesen? Die Tagung sucht im Gespräch mit Künstler*innen, Kunstwissenschaftler*innen und Theolog*innen eine Bestandsaufnahme des Verhältnisses von Kunst und Religion und fragt nach Perspektiven für die Zukunft.

8. THE HIGH ALTAR OF ANTWERP CATHEDRAL - 15 October – 31 December, Keizerskapel, Keizerstraat 23, Antwerpen: A Modello (1611) for the High Altar of Antwerp Cathedral. Rubens’s Assumption of the Virgin from about 1613 in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna was meant to become the High-Altar in the Antwerp Cathedral. The first commission for it dates from about 1610/11. On 24 March 1611, Otto Venius submitted a sketch to the Chapter of the Antwerp Cathedral, representing Our Lord inviting his Bride from Lebanon to her Coronation. Shortly after, on 22 April, Rubens (successfully) submitted two modelli, as a result of the negotiations following the meeting with Otto Venius. Today three ‘surviving’ modelli can be taken into consideration for this commission. Two of them are well known and e.g. published by David Freedberg. Starting with a painting on panel (transferred to canvas, 106 x 78 cm) by Rubens in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg showing a combination of the Assumption and Coronation of the Virgin and widely accepted as one of the two modelli submitted to the Canons of Our Ladies Cathedral in Antwerp.  The second modello has not been convincingly identified yet. Much discussed is an Assumption of the Virgin (panel, 102 x 66 cm) by Rubens in the Royal Collection in London which on the other hand seems to be of  later date (about 1613). The hereby presented panel (about 1611) also represents the Assumption of the Virgin (panel, 105 x 66 cm) and over-all similarities with the London-panel are obvious. But there are important differences which are interesting in the hereby started discussion and which puts it closer to the final version (Vienna). It especially asked for attention after dendrochronology pointed out that its wooden panel (consisting of three planks in oak-wood) came from a tree cut down in 1590. About 1610 they were in perfect condition to be painted. The Antwerp panel differs from the London-version e.g. in the Virgins right palm (turned upwards) and in two angels holding a wreath of laurels, appearing to the right in a cloud. These angels are absent in the London-panel but reappear in a similar pose in the final version in Vienna. Another angel to the left, at the same level as the Virgin’s floating dress, under the arms of a praying angel, is also missing in the London-version. The hereby studied panel in any case dates from the period in which Rubens presented two modelli to the canons of Antwerp Cathedral (1611). The Virgin, the angels, the women near the tomb, the coats of the apostles, and more, do in no way differ from what one might expect from Rubens. It is certainly not a copy after the Vienna-altarpiece, differs from the version in Buckingham Palace and thus from the existing engraving by Bolswert. It must at this moment be considered the earliest known example of the many known representations of The Assumption of the Virgin attributed to Rubens. It was in the possession of the Sisters of the Augustine Order in Brussels (nowadays Berlaymont-site), probably from the seventeenth century on. Hours:

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