We leave the Hofstraat and arrive at the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwplein. Here are some exquisite shops, e.g. the shop of the world famous floral artist Daniël Ost. The square is dominated by the monumental Neo-Byzantine church of the same name, designed by architect Lodewijk Roelandt. It was built between 1840 and 1896. On the tower a monumental statue of the Virgin by Frans Van Havermaet is on display (cfr. statue 13). The interior of the church is decorated with magnificent wall paintings by  two young artists: Godfried Guffens and Jan Swerts. They found their inspiration with the ‘Nazarene movement’ an innovative religious artist group, active in Rome and Germany (1852). The church is freely accessible on weekdays 9am - 11.30am.


Opposite the O.-L.-Vrouwkerk we can see the statue ‘Pieta’, dating from 1948. The artist shapes a classical and universal theme in western art. The scene shows one of the most dramatic moments in life: a mother lamenting her deceased son. Both hands reach out to the dead body. The characters are reduced to the essence: the representation of intense sadness. It is not an expressive depiction of outrageous sorrow, but  its  inner experience. René Smits chooses for an approach that creates distance: The Holy Mary takes distance from her tortured son. She shows as it were her upright sitting son to the world. Jesus is the ‘great’, the ‘lasting’. Mary is the ‘compassionate’, the ‘meditating’, indicating the resurrection.


Originally the Pieta is a religious theme. It is situated in the timespan between the descent of Christ from the cross and the lamentation by a group of his followers. A Pieta is a reflective subject, where only two figures are depicted. Usually the dead Christ is on Mary’s lap, the best-known example being Michelangelo’s Pieta.

Smits is a perfectionist. His ‘Pieta’ is a synthesis of his thinking. To realise his artistic vision of the subject the artist does not avoid any technical challenge. It is a fascinating confrontation of shapes, difficult to model, to mould and to cast in bronze.


SMITS René (1925-2010)

René Smits studied at the Academy and the Higher Institute of Antwerpen. He was a sculptor and graphic artist. He taught sculpture at the Academies of Mechelen and Sint-Niklaas. He was a Government Inspector (1980-1985). He made realistic portraits, sculptures in wood, bronze and stone, in the classical as well as the more contemporary style. He made a portrait of the Belgian princes Boudewijn and Albert.


Stad Sint-Niklaas, September 1th 1984