Sharon Van Overmeiren
De Gulle Waard
Public sculpture
Het Steen Antwerp medieval fortress

Contemporary interpretation of the Semini statue adorns the courtyard of Het Steen

The Semini statue, embedded above the main gate of Het Steen, is believed to be one of the oldest statues in Antwerp. For centuries, the pagan symbol of fertility and prosperity has played an active role in the tales of the city’s folklore. The city of Antwerp has commissioned artist Sharon Van Overmeiren (born 1985, Antwerp) to create a contemporary interpretation of the statue and her sculpture De Gulle Waard (The Generous Innkeeper) now adorns the courtyard of the renovated Steen where it will soon welcome tourists and visitors.

The small stone bas-relief of a human-like figure, appointed ‘Semini’ by the Antwerp community was badly damaged in the sixteenth century, obscuring its origin and signification into an ambiguity that has attracted a variety of interpretations and myths based on its legacy.

‘De Gulle Waard’/’The Generous Innkeeper’

The narratives surrounding the historical emblem was a grateful starting point for Van Overmeiren, who perceived the anecdotes and nuances around the sculpture as layers of sediment, that are exposed before disappearing again with the tides of a river. The artist, who herself grew up near Het Steen, has combined the colours and textures of the city in wrought iron, bronze and clay, cumulating a unique sculpture that interweaves historical and visual references. Developing her own visual language, Van Overmeiren embraces the untamed energy that Semini evokes as a pre-Christian, erotically charged idol, and channels it into a thoughtful and contemplative, contemporary work of art.

Titled 'De Gulle Waard' (The Generous Innkeeper) the sculpture offers a gentle nod to other folklore figures associated with city. The new innkeeper is generous: he welcomes visitors with a big smile and open arms. Resembling a cage with wavy bars, the wrought iron pedestal on which the statue stands references both the flows of a nearby river and bars of a jail cell, referencing the historical notoriety of Het Steen as a prison.

A safe depository for treasures and wealth, Van Overmeiren has shed light on the historical fact of the building by depicting elements such as jewels, chains, keys, locks and a crown in the bronze base of the statue to reinforce its bastion of power and prosperity. Expanding on a historical interpretation of the original sculpture, in which the figure's legs were regarded as snakes, Van Overmeiren has chosen to protect this excess of wealth symbolically by adding depictions of seemingly threatening reptiles and grinning dragons.

The upper portion of the sculpture, which was made by hand in clay, recreates the shape of the original statue, which stands with legs and arms spread, in a swinging upward motion concluding in two open arms as a kind of welcoming of the visitors. This ceramic totem interweaves organic motifs of ears, wheat, archaic symbols of fertility and prosperity with symbols of love and passion.