The stucco ceilings of Jan Christian Hansche, part 9: Schoonhoven Castle, Aarschot (and Roland Rens)

My quest to find the remaining stucco ceilings of the 17th century artist Jan Christian Hansche is reaching a conclusion. (The story so far: Park Abbey in Leuven; the Chateau de Modave near Namur; the ones that have been destroyed in Germany; the Church of St Nicholas at Perk near Brussels; the Church of St Remigius at Franc-Waret also near Namur; the Church of St Charles Borromeo in Antwerp; two ceilings in Gent; the Sablon in Brussels and Beaulieu Castle in Machelen.)

Yesterday I ventured a little bit to the north of Leuven, to visit Schoonhoven Castle near Aarschot. The castle is the private property of Dr S and Mrs B, who bought it as a ruin in the 1990s and have restored it to a state of glory. Most of the building dates from the 18th century, but the 17th century chapel survived, and the stucco ceiling by Hansche, dated to 1671, has been partially reconstructed by Dr S and Mrs B.

Dr S and Mrs B in the chapel

Sadly, it is the least extensive of any of the surviving Hansche works that I have found. In this panoramic shot of the chapel, you can see the three gilded monograms immediately above the altar:

And here is a closer shot – from left to right, there is the Marian monogram IXXR (actually MAR written together), the standard IHS for her son, and a curious third monogram: a crowned combination of S and, I think, L.

I can’t agree with Marc Van Vaeck who thinks it is a St Joseph monogram; the other letter is clearly an L, not a J, and St Joseph is not usually crowned. The work was commissioned by Charles-Philippe d’Eynatten / Karel-Filips van Eynatten, none of whose initials are S or L in French or in Dutch. S could of course be for Schoonhoven, the name of the castle itself, but the L still baffles me. Charles-Philippe did not marry, and his siblings were Philippe-Gilles, Catherine, Marie-Madeleine and Anna Maria, none of whom has either of the right initials.

We can compare the other two monograms to their equivalents in Hansche’s earlier ceiling in Antwerp. The iconography of the pierced heart is familiar.

There’s also a splendid ceiling lantern, which is however difficult to photograph.

Dr S and Mrs B have only been able to restore the altar end of the chapel. In the attic they have several more pieces of Hansche stucco which they found literally lying on the floor, having fallen off the ceiling, which they have not yet been able to put back – the necessary infrastructure just isn’t there. They kindly allowed me to look at the fragments, which are laid out next to a rather alarming Jesus from a later date, who has also been removed from the chapel. This is literally the closest I have physically got to Hansche’s work, since it’s usually way up high.

Marc Van Vaeck says that originally there were also two scenes of the life of the Holy Family here, one of which was similar to the one Hansche had done a couple of years earlier in Franc-Waret; no trace remains of them. It’s awfully sad that this beautiful art was allowed to decay, but I’m glad that what remains is in the loving hands of Dr S and Mrs B.

I went to nearby Aarschot to buy lunch, and came across two striking modern sculptures there, both by local artist Roland Rens. First is a 1995 tribute to the Grenadier Guards who liberated the town in 1944:

And also the Demerwachter, a mythic figure monitoring the River Demer, and not really looking like he enjoys the assignment:

So, that’s one more Hansche ceiling ticked off my list. I have booked to visit the last surviving Hansche ceiling in Belgium, at the Kasteel van Horst, on 24 April; and I’ve also found a reference suggesting that there is some of his work at Boxmeer Castle in the Netherlands, near to the lost works at Kleve and Wesel, and hope to visit there on 1 May. The quest is the quest!