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etching by Jos Speybrouck

Jos Speybrouck (1891-1956)

I’m not a big fan of Art Deco and religious artwork but the work of Speybrouck is rather unique and he is definitely an illustrator whose style has influenced many other artists. His use of simplified, elongated forms, sinuous lines, geometric, almost pyramidal compositions, and brilliant color makes for a very interesting almost modern look.

Not that Speybrouck particularly cared about artistic labels. The son of a restorer of antiques, he used to accompany his father on repair jobs in churches and monasteries around Belgium, steeping himself in medieval lore. Speybrouck received a Roman Catholic education, taught art in parochial schools, and remained a faithful servant of the church all his life, believing his art should not only move viewers but teach them.

From 1923 to 1940, Speybrouck worked closely with the Benedictine Order at the Abbaye-de-St.-Andre near Bruges in creating a cycle of chomolithographic illustrations of the liturgical calendar, as well as mass-market post card series with sacred themes.

Art Deco was a highly eclectic movement, influenced by everything from the art of Ancient Egypt and the Baroque to the Pre-Raphaelites and contemporary industrial design. Two distinct, almost competing, styles appear in Speybrouck’s religious works. The figures in the postcards titled Eucharist II and The Annunciation are elegantly minimalist, barely emerging out of geometric forms.

What a striking contrast to the serpentine waves and the serrated pleats of Jesus’s wind-whipped robes in the chromolithograph, Christ Stills the Storm or the swirling clouds of incense in The Ascension,where you see Speybrouck in full-blown, heroic Baroque mode! Whether in stillness or storm, there is always something visually stunning about Speybrouck’s way of making sacred art.