The series of the 15 mysteries of the Rosary was ordered around 1617 for the northern aisle of the Dominican church. Eleven of the best painters of Antwerp of the time were involved, among them Hendrik van Balen, Peter Paul Rubens, Jacob Jordaens and Antoon Van Dyck.
The Dominicans themselves did not order the series. The commissioners were all members of the Brotherhood of Our Lady of the Rosary:
Jan van den Broek, since 1611 member of the Brotherhood and at the same time city eleemosynary,
Peter Bouvrey and Jan-Baptist de Vos,
and at last the only Dominican: padre Joannes Boucquet, prior of the monastery and in all likelihood the inspiration behind the cycle. He founded the Brotherhood of the Rosary in Lier in 1605 and similarly in Mechelen in 1616.
The dating of the series to 1617 is not taken from the archives, but from a 19th century inscription on the panel of Rubens that was attached about 1818-24. But stylistically the dating is surely challengeable.
As we see on an interior sight of Peter I Neefs from 1636 (Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum), the 15 paintings were hanging on the northern wall, above the confessionals just as they are today. From west to east the 15 mysteries are following on after the other:
first the five joyful mysteries
The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth,
The Presentation at the Temple,
than the five painful mysteries
The bearing of the cross,
and at last the five glorious mysteries
The coronation of the Virgin.
Between The Thorn crowning of Antoon de Bruyn and The bearing of the cross by Antoon van Dyck the La Madonna del Rosario of Caravaggio was put. In 1623 Rubens, Jan I Brueghel, Hendrik van Balen and others bought this painting (now in Vienna in the Kunsthistorisches Museum) for 1'800 gulden and presented it to the brotherhood. In 1651 the line-up was changed. The painting of Caravaggio was chosen as altarpiece for the new altar of the Rosary in the northern transept.
The Dominicans of Antwerp seized the opportunity to found the Brotherhood of the Rosary after the naval battle at Lepanto, where a catholic fleet defeated the Turks on October 7, 1571. This victory happened thanks to the praying to the Rosary, an initiative of the Dominican pope Pius V. That explains why the Dominicans show a special affection for the Rosary, which was also shown over the Dominican monastery in Antwerp: in paintings, sculptures, reliefs, and especially on the details of the confessionals. The brotherhood is still in existence, and throughout the centuries has presented several pieces of art to St. Paul's church, among them four canvases about the Battle of Lepanto by Jan Petters in 1671 and four stained-glass windows by Marc de Groot in 1971.