Interior Cathedral of Our Lady Antwerp © Antwerpen Toerisme en Congres (Copyright always obligatory)

Did you know that seven sites in Flanders and Brussels are included on the UNESCO World Heritage List? Did you know that from the 15th to the 17th century, the Flemish Masters made Flanders into the fountainhead of the finest art in Western Europe? What if we link the two together? What if we link Bruegel, Rubens and Van Eyck to our unique, beautiful cultural heritage sites? Read on and find out!

Rubens and the Museum Plantin-Moretus

Museum Plantin-Moretus Antwerp © Antwerpen Toerisme en Congres (copyright always obligatory)

The Museum Plantin-Moretus, located in the heart of Antwerp, is a printing plant and publishing house dating from the 16th century. The Plantin and Moretus family were the first printers on an industrial scale and their original residence offers a unique historical insight in the invention and spread of typography.

If you say Antwerp, you say Peter Paul Rubens. From 1608 onwards, this Flemish Master and baroque legend worked closely together with Balthasar I Moretus, a childhood friend of his. Rubens designed 24 title pages, illustrated books and painted portraits of the family, which are now part of the museum’s extensive collection.

In Bruges: the Flemish Primitives

Van Eyck Studio © Historium Bruges (copyright always obligatory)

In the 15th century, Bruges was a flourishing commercial city. With the support of rich traders and the prestigious Burgundian dynasty, it became an inspirational meeting place for numerous artists, in particular the Flemish Primitives, such as Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling.

Their works influenced painting styles all over Europe. Bruges’ many museums, such as the Groeninge Museum, St John’s Hospital, St Saviour’s Cathedral and the Church of Our Lady, house several of their masterpieces.

Bruegel at home in Brussels

Grand Place Brussels © Visit Brussels (copyright always obligatory)

When in Brussels, make sure to make a stop at the Grand Place, described by the French writer Victor Hugo as one of the most beautiful squares in the world. Most of the buildings date from the late 17th century and show an interesting combination of Gothic, Baroque, Neoclassical and Neogothic architecture. The eye catcher of the square is the City Hall with its 315 ft. bell tower.

From 1562-1569, the Flemish Renaissance painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder lived in Brussels’ city centre. His iconic masterpieces ‘Winter Landscape with Skaters and a Bird Trap’ and ‘Fall of Icarus’ can be admired in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels.

Van Eyck and the Flemish Beguinages

A day in Bruges - Beguinage © Kris Jacobs

In the Middle Ages, north-western Europe developed the tradition of the Beguinages: architectural complexes to house beguines. Those were religious women who dedicated their life to God and chose to live together in communities. The Flemish beguinages are built in architectural styles specific to the cultural region and consist of houses, churches, ancillary buildings and green spaces. Also today, the beguinages are a place of unparalleled serenity, ideal for a quiet and relaxing walk.

In 1448, Jan van Eyck’s daughter, Livina van Eyck, joined a beguinage in the province Limburg, where she completed a spiritual journey described in several manuscripts.

Flemish Masters in the Cathedral of Our Lady

Interior of Our Lady Cathedral Antwerp ©

The UNESCO World Heritage List includes 26 belfries in Flanders. The belfry is a tower enclosing the city bells. It can stand on its own or be attached to a city hall, church, cloth hall or other civic building. It was the safest location in the city and contained the city archives, city vaults and sometimes also the prison.

One of the belfries included on the list is the tower of the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp. Not only the cathedral itself is impressive and worth a visit, it also houses prestigious works of art. About sixteen altarpieces of important Flemish Masters from the 16-17th century are now to be admired in the Cathedral of Our Lady, the location for which they were originally painted.

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