Albert Servaes and his controversial Stations of the Cross

February 13, 2018

Albert Servaes, Self Portrait 1951

Albert Servaes (1883-1966) is the leading representative of Expressionism in Belgian painting. A committed Catholic, he is ranked as a religious artist, though the Belgian rural scene also occupied his brush. “I have had only two masters,” he once said, “the Gospels and nature.” On three occasions he depicted the Stations of the Cross. The ones upon which Titus meditated were commission 1919 for the church of the Discalced Carmelites in Luythagen, a suburb of Antwerp. When they were hung they caused such an uproar that the superiors in Rome ordered them removed from the chapel. They now hang in the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Koningshoeven in Tilburg, Netherlands.

It is not clear how Titus came to enter the scene. Perhaps his general interest in Catholic life, Cultural matters public affairs drew him into the case which attained a wide notoriety, at least in artistic circles. At first he tried through the procurator Gen. of his order Hubert Driessen, to placate the Roman authorities. When this failed, his reaction was characteristic. He comforted the justly stricken artist, yet understood the pastoral problem involved with dealing with a culturally uninstructed public. Moreover, he set about in a positive way to alleviate the situation. He persuaded the newly founded Catholic cultural review, “Opgang,” to publish the scandalous drawings.

Brandsma’s own sensitive reflections highlighted the profound religious content of the work. Thus, a great piece of Flemish art was matched with the spiritual thoughts of an outstanding religious figure of the Netherlands.

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