The permanent exhibition of ancient art offers a brilliant overview of the South Nederlandish or Flemish art of the 15th-18th centuries, as well an insight into the Italian, Dutch and German schools of art of the same period. The works are arranged chronologically, helping to trace the development of visual arts in the region.
In the 15th century art became a significant way of patronage in the region: it was supported both by the court of the Duke of Burgundy and the recently-born affluent middle class. The artists developed a unique, albeit still somewhat primitive style, best described by its technical smoothness and glazing. Great attention was paid to details and depiction of the story. Biblical or historical figures were inserted in contemporary interiors and dressed in magnificent 15th-century garments, as seen, for example, in Annunciation by the Master of Flémalle (Robert Campin). The exhibition includes works by all the greatest Flemish masters of the time, the likes of Rogier van der Weyden, Petrus Christus, Dirk Bouts and Hans Memling. A separate room is dedicated to Hieronymus Bosch, featuring his famous triptych The Temptation of St Anthony.
An overview of the 16th-century art follows in all its diversity: at the time, some new genres were appearing alongside the well-established ones. The exhibition features the masters of the Bruges and Antwerp schools: Gerard David, Quentin Matsys, Joos van Cleve, as well as the Mannerist Jan Gossaert who was the first in the region to start painting mythological characters in the nude (Venus and Cupid). The beginnings of the landscape genre are marked by the works of Joachim Patinir and Herry met de Bless; the new area of genre painting is represented by Jan van Hemessen, Pieter Aertsen and Joachim Beuckelaer. This section concludes with the Pieter Bruegel room featuring four significant paintings by the great master, including the famous Census at Bethlehem.
The 17th-century Flemish Baroque painting is amply represented in the museum's collection, both by separate Peter Paul Rubens and Jacob Jordaens rooms (the former boasting the artist's brilliant sketches on the subject of Ovid's Metamorphoses) and some genuinely excellent portraits by Anthony van Dyck. The also-exhibited Still Life with Garland of Flowers and Cup is a real gem among the great works by Jan Brueghel the Elder (a.k.a. 'Velvet' Brueghel), son of Pieter Bruegel the Elder; David Teniers, one of the best-known masters of the 17th-century Flemish painting, is represented by his most famous piece, Archduke Leopold William in His Gallery of Paintings; not only is it a brilliant work of art but also an insight into the ways in which art collectors used to present their collections in the past.
As for the art of other regions, the museum can take great pride in its collection of the 17th-century Dutch painting. All of the genres of the Dutch Golden Age are represented by its greatest masters: Biblical scenes by Abraham Bloemaert; portraits by Rembrandt and Frans Hals; genre paintings by Adriaen van Ostade, Gabriel Metsu and Jan Steen; landscapes by Jacob van Ruisdael and Nicolaas Berchem; architectural paintings by Gerrit Berckheyde; seascapes by Jan van Goyen and Ludolf Bakhuizen and still lifes by Jan de Heem.
Keywords: museum, Brussels