The museum collection gives a good overview of painting in the Southern Netherlands in the 17th century. After the religious troubles, religious (read: Catholic) art in these regions rose to an unprecedented height. Art was produced in great quantities, largely due to the necessary restorations and reparations of the damaged churches and other buildings. The indisputable 'capital' of Baroque painting is Antwerp, with the famous 'triumvirate' of leading painters: Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony van Dyck and Jacob Jordaens. Both Rubens and Jordaens ran large workshops for years. Their influence was profound, both on their contemporaries and on generations of painters in the Southern Netherlands throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, some of whom produced rather lifeless imitations.
The Baroque is largely an ideologically inspired art. Baroque art placed itself in the service of the Counter-Reformation, the reform movement of the Catholic church that relied in part on the effects of grand, dramatic and glorifying works of art. Voluminous altarpieces and spectacular statues were supposed to appeal to the emotions of the faithful. The church interior and the architecture were designed for effect. Stylistically, the Rubenesque Baroque was a synthesis of influences: Classical Antiquity, the Italian Renaissance and the Flemish tradition of 'realism'.In addition to large paintings with religious, historical and mythological scenes, however, other genres were practised as well. Whereas clerical and official patrons generally commissioned larger works, rich citizens mainly ordered smaller portraits, landscapes and still lifes. For these genres, the rich city of Antwerp was again the centre, but Ghent and Brussels stayed in the picture too.