Saint Andrew’s Church
St Eligius Altar of the Minters
Original triptych, Maerten de Vos, 1601, today in the Antwerp Museum of Fine Arts
Central panel: a contemporary photographic reproduction, courtesy Agfa-Gevaert
Outer panels: ‘The Avarice of Egoism’ versus ‘The generosity of Charity’
Immediately after the liberation of Antwerp by the Spanish forces in 1585 the Minters’ Guild rebuilt their altar at St. Andrew’s, which had been destroyed by Calvinists during the 1566 Iconoclastic Fury. A triptych was commissioned from Maerten de Vos, then one of the city’s most renowned painters.
The altar is dedicated to the patron saint Eligius: due to his craftsmanship and his honesty he was appointed royal minter by the king of the Francs. Moreover, the saint abandoned worldly fortune for a life as a missionary priest and was the first historical figure to visit Antwerp around 650 C.E. Enough reason for the (Antwerp) minters to choose Eligius as their patron saint.
On the central panel The question to Jesus about the tribute to Caesar (Mt. 22:15-22), the high priests and scribes have sent accomplices to trick Jesus into an answer while teaching in the Temple of Jerusalem. They ask Him if the Jews are to pay taxes to the Roman Emperor. He answers: ‘Show me a denarius. whose image and name does it bear?’ ‘The henchmen reply: ‘Caesar’s.’ A positive answer would have meant He was not the genuine Messiah, as this person was expected to defend the rights of the Jews against the Roman occupiers. With a negative reply the accomplices would have handed Him over to the Roman administrator as an insurrectionist. “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God’ (Lc.20:21-26). The astonishment was great at this apt reply, in which state and religion are separated: one cannot misuse religion for political purposes and vice versa.
In 1798 the French administration confiscated the triptych of the minters. It finally ends up in the Antwerp Royal Museum of Fine Arts, where today it is kept in the cellar storage, far away from the public eye.
The Works of Mercy
Painting on panel, Frans II Francken, ca. 1600-1620
The painting on the north wall also refers to the virtue of generosity. It shows a real-life scene, with the almoners of the city distributing food to the needy.