The stucco ceilings of Jan-Christian Hansche, part 4: The Church of St Nicholas at Perk

My little project to see all the remaining work of the 17th-century stucco sculptor Jan-Christian Hansche promises to pose a number of challenges. Very few of the eleven buildings where his magnificent ceilings remain are open to the public on a regular basis. Also, not many of them are all that close to here, as you will see from my map:

One of the exceptions is the church of St Nicholas at Perk, a small village in the municipality of Steenokkerzeel, right beside the runways of Zaventem Airport, 20 km from here. I first tried to visit as an excursion to prove that I was getting well after my bout with COVID, two weeks ago on Sunday 5 December. Unfortunately I arrived at 1030 just as the sacristan was locking up, so I gritted my teeth and tried again last weekend, arriving at 0930 in time for Mass which lasted just over half an hour. After Mass there was no problem for me to photograph Hansche’s work, and indeed another tourist had also come just for a look, but the lesson is that you need to be prompt sometimes.

Just to give you perspective, here are two shots of the ceiling from different directions, first from the door looking towards the altar, second from the altar looking towards the organ over the door.

The six panels show the four Evangelists, the church’s original patron (the Blessed Virgin) and its current patron (my own saint, St Nicholas). The order from door to altar is John, Matthew, Nicholas, Mary, Luke, Mark for some reason. I’ll present them in the more traditional order, starting with St Matthew and the angel:

St Mark and the lion:

St Luke and the ox:

Poor St John and the eagle are hidden by the organ:

The Blessed Virgin and child – not sure what she is holding, but it’s one of the classic Hansch leaning-out-of-the-ceiling pieces:

And St Nicholas with the three children who he resurrected; his mitre and the middle child both leaning into our space.

The stucco is not in the best of shape after 350 years, and apparently major restoration work is planned between now and 2023, so if you can postpone your visit until then you’ll be rewarded. Even so, the middle two panels, of St Nicholas and the Blessed Virgin, are electrifying.

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