On the same promenade of the Grand Place, our attention is caught by a sculpture group with two skeletons. They evoke mixed feelings in the viewer. On closer inspection, this is a complex, daring work of art.

On the occasion of the celebration of 800 years of Saint-Nicolas, Art in the City commissioned Frans Heirbaut to immortalize the founding Countesses on the Grote Markt of Saint-Nicolas, an idea launched years ago by the city's emancipation council.

Johanna of Constantinople, Countess of Flanders and Hainaut, was asked to establish a new parish in 1217. In 1241 she makes Sint-Niklaas the administrative center of the Land of Waas. Her sister, Countess Margaret, made a donation of land including this large market square.

The noble ladies are depicted as skeletons by Frans Heirbaut. It is a deliberate choice by which he presents medieval motifs and moralizing themes such as the mortality of man, death which is always very near (memento mori). With their elegant posture and gestures, the Countesses seem to be performing the Dance of Death (danse macabre).

The motif of vanity (vanitas) is expressed in the central mirror. The countesses are taking a selfie. This gives the sculpture group a universal character that connects past and present.

In 2017, this special realisation will be awarded the Culture Prize of the City of Sint-Niklaas


HEIRBAUT Frans (1948)

Frans Heirbaut is the son of sculptor Gisleen Heirbaut. He took a course in stone and marble working (1969) and obtained a diploma in higher art education in sculpture (1974) and drawing (1975) in Sint-Niklaas. At the European Centre for Craftsmen in Venice he studied restoration techniques (1979). In 1990 'The Shepherd' was inaugurated with a folk festival in Sinaai. His young and playful sculpture 'In the clouds' (2001) is displayed in Nieuwkerken. Frans Heirbaut receives wide appreciation and press attention for his images of Jan Decleir, Fred Bervoets and Jan Hoet, among others (Erkenning van Verdienste Ernest Albert Prize, Mechelen, 2008). In 2017, the video film 'Reflections' about the statue of Johanna and Margaret of Constantinople will premiere.



Kunst in de Stad, October 21th 2017