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Circuit Gothic-Renaissance-Baroque

The fifteen galleries of this circuit offer a remarkable survey of sculpture and the decorative arts in the Low Countries from the thirteenth to the seventeenth century. One outstanding ensemble consists of the biggest collection of wooden retables in the world. A second exceptional display is one of tapestries; these are regularly alternated and there are always twenty-five on view at any one time. Typical items from the Baroque are the costly cabinets.


Retables are among the most remarkable works of art we have. They are, as it were, large, sculpture-crammed boxes that were placed above church altars. Thirteen of the fifteen at the Museum are displayed in the ‘Gothic and pre-Renaissance’ galleries; they date from the 15th and 16th centuries and were produced in the great centres of Brussels, Antwerp and Mechlin, which enjoyed worldwide renown. The exceptional retable from 1493 illustrating the martyrdom of St. George and bearing the signature of Jan Borreman represents the summit of this art form and comes from the Brussels ateliers of the...

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Saint Georges altarpiece (detail)
Saint Georges altarpiece, Jan Borman, 1493, Brussels, oak, iron, grey paint


For centuries, tapestries were one of the major exports of the Low Countries, and the Art & History Museum has the largest and most important collection of them in Belgium, a total of more than 150. Not all can be displayed and there has to be proper conservation, which is why a different selection of forty or so is put out every two years. In hanging a fresh series, care is taken to ensure that as broad as possible a survey is provided of the different weaving centres (Tournai, Brussels, Oudenaarde and Bruges).

Tapestry Scenes from the story of Judith and Holofernes
Scenes from the story of Judith and Holofernes, 16th cent., Tournai, wool and silk

16th- and 17th-century silverware

Among the things that illustrate Baroque lustre, silver undoubtedly takes pride of place. A wide range of different examples is assembled here in a showcase overflowing with beakers, drinking-bowls and sparkling and richly ornamented tableware.

Nautilus cup
Nautilus cup, 16th cent., Netherlands, nautilus shell and silver


Of the many valuable pieces of furniture in the circuit, the stars are the Antwerp cabinets. Their two doors enclose an interior divided into two rows of small drawers set either side of a central section, evoking a structure in perspective. They are manufactured of costly, often exotic, woods and are richly decorated, with ebony, ivory and bone, alternating with tortoiseshell incrustations, plating in gold, as well as rosewood and walnut inlay-work.

Cabinet ivory, ebony, walnut, wood (detail)
Cabinet, 1650, Paris, ivory, ebony, walnut, wood

Sophie Balace

Valérie Montens

Emile Van Binnebeke