Antwerp Castles & Museums

The Museum Hof van Busleyden in Mechelen

Museum Hof van Busleyden Mechelen

After years of renovation, Museum Hof van Busleyden in Mechelen opens on June 17th 2018

I was delighted to be invited to the press event prior to the opening of the new Museum Hof Van Busleyden in Mechelen. Actually I felt very privileged. The press tour for Dutch speakers was in the morning, and according to Press Coordinator Sara Verhaert it attracted around 35 people. I had registered for the English-language press tour – and was the only one attending! So Curator Samuel Mareel gave me a very personal museum tour, which was great!

Who was Hiëronymus van Busleyden?

He was a talented doctor of law from Arlon in the south of present-day Belgium. He lived from 1470 to 1517, and moved to Mechelen in the early 16th century. Here he was appointed head of the Great Parliament, the highest court in the Netherlands. He turned his brand new residence (the site of this museum) into a luxurious palace which he filled with beautiful art and books. He also received the great humanists of the day, Erasmus and Sir Thomas More. Van Busleyden’s palace became well-known for its thought-provoking discussions among the key thinkers of the time.

Why was Mechelen important in the early 16th century?

It was the capital of the Hapsburg Netherlands under Margaret of Austria. Margaret was a powerful woman who loved the arts. Like van Busleyden, she collected paintings and books, as well as insects and plants, and surrounded herself with Renaissance artists. Under her rule, the City of Mechelen thrived: the early 16th century was its golden age.

What kind of museum is Hof van Busleyden?

An extremely impressive one; and one of the more interesting museums I’ve visited recently. Basically it’s theme is the Golden Age of the Southern Netherlands. It has an outstanding collection of artwork from the 15th and 16th centuries, plus exhibits that cleverly bridge the gap between then and now. So it aims to suggest ways in which the artwork of that period has significance today.

Also interesting is that it parallels Hiëronymus van Busleyden’s discussions by positioning itself as a current meeting place for opinions and ideas. It also seeks to bring the residents and organisations of Mechelen in touch with their heritage. I found it to be an attractive and well laid-out museum, with space and air, and a smooth integration of ancient relics and modern technology.

1

What are its top pieces?

There are many, and in the months and years ahead more will be added. Here is a selection of my favourites.

Margaret of Austria’s Choir Book

This is an absolutely huge book of music that is so well preserved it’s difficult to believe it was created in 1515. One reason for its preservation is that it disappeared until its re-discovery in 1860. Throughout the 20th century it was kept under wraps, only appearing at a few major exhibitions. In 2009 it was digitized and the images made available for research. In the museum the book is proudly on display.

Koorboek_foto2_1280x853OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA060228 027

What’s even better, is that the Choir Book is displayed in a room where actual 16th century polyphonic music is being played! And you can stand in different corners of the room to hear different voices (bass, soprano, tenor etc.).

The Seven Enclosed Gardens

These are incredible religious devotional pieces. They are wooden cabinets depicting a different vision of heaven. It’s the mix of media used that is so staggering. Silk, textiles, metals, glass, beads and painted panels, all neatly integrated into a whole.

BH_Totaal_1280x865

Miniature painted wooden figures are surrounded by animals and flowers. The skill of the craftsmen is breathtaking, and they have obviously been lovingly restored.

 

BH_Detail5_1280x852BH_Detail4_1280x854

The 1474 Parliament of Mechelen painting

It’s the size and detail of this huge painting that impressed me. It depicts the opening of the Parliament of Mechelen under Charles the Bold in 1474. The painting itself is believed to have made between 1507 and 1515.

3_1280x960

The Poupées de Malines

16th century Mechelen was renowned for its Poupées de Malines. (Malines is French for Mechelen). These are small statues carved from walnut and beautifully painted. They generally depict women saints. The poupées were a greatly sought-after export product, and have turned up in South America, India and the Philippines.

2

These are just some of my favourites; there is simply too much in the museum to describe in a single post. The alabaster sculptures and the Flemish tapestries almost made it onto my Best Of list.

High-tech too

There are a couple of other features of the museum that I particularly liked. One is an interactive digital table that allows you to trace the history of the Burgundian empire and the specific genealogy of Margaret of Austria and various other royals and notables at the time. You can also trace the wars happening around then, and their outcomes.

In an upstairs reading room there’s a Virtual Reality headset that I really enjoyed. You can visit other Burgundian sites in Belgium, the Netherlands and France, and wander inside them just as if you are there. Which in one sense, you are.

General information

The Hof van Busleyden Museum is open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. except Wednesday, when it’s closed, and Thursday, when it’s open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

A standard ticket is 11 EUR but there are various reductions for the elderly, students, families etc. Children under 12 get in free. Guided tours for groups of more than 15 people are possible.

If your visit is anything like mine, you will go away happy.

Here’s a pin for you Pinterest fans:

 

About Denzil

Discovering Belgium is my personal blog describing places to visit in Belgium. It mainly focuses on walking and cycling in nature, but also covers cities and events.

11 comments on “The Museum Hof van Busleyden in Mechelen

  1. Beautiful art work! You were privileged, indeed, to have had a personal tour.

  2. Wow, you are a VIP! That music book is wonderful (everything else is too, but that was my favourite).

    • Yes Anabel I could have sat and listened to that music for hours. But I don’t think my guide would have waited that long!

  3. The museum building is stunning as are the artworks it houses. I’m impressed by the thoughtful exhibits and how they are enhanced by audio tours, seating areas, and graphic displays of the craftsmanship. Even the exhibit housing is beautiful and compliments the art being displayed. The cost of creating such a full experience museum must have been staggering. Congratulations on being invited as a member of the press – you certainly do your part to showcase your country.

    • It’s right up your street Sharon. I really like how so many museums these days are moving away from the conventional dusty image of information on cards describing artefacts in glass cabinets, and really making the experience significant to the visitor. There has obviously been a lot of thought given to this particular one over the years it was closed.

  4. Another superb post. Hope Belgium has put you on a retainer.

    • That would be nice Pat! Unfortunately I don’t get much support from many national, regional or city tourism departments, and certainly not financial. I reach out to them seeking collaboration but my proposals usually fall on deaf ears.

      • Too bad they do not know a good deal when they are offered one….. Do you let them now how many international blog followers you have?

  5. Denzil, this is our kind of museum. I like the inclusion of 21st century technology to showcase these precious masterpieces. How lucky for you to have a personal tour guide for your visit.

    • Yes Carol it’s one to return to, in order to spend a bit longer looking around.

I welcome your comments

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: