Koninklijke Musea voor Schone Kunsten van België — Musée Oldmasters Museum

Last Sunday, I went to the Musée Oldmasters Museum in the Koninklijke Musea voor Schone Kunsten van België / Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique in Brussels. It’s one of four in the building on Regentschapsstraat/Rue de la Régence, and a combi ticket gets you into this one, Musée Fin-de-Siècle Museum, Musée Modern Museum, and Musée Magritte Museum. I was here for the first two, and a quick look into the third for the Jan Fabre stuff. Magritte? They kinda insisted I go, so ok, I go.

I’ve never liked Magritte. I find his stuff tedious and insipid, exemplary only of the twee French purgatory of symbolism. The three floors of Magritte confirmed it. While Der Blaue Reiter, Die Brücke, expressionism, and all the other radical breaks with conservative ideas was going on, he was comfortable rolling out decades of conservative fantasies. I got through all that in about 5 minutes.

On to the proper fucking art of the Old Masters!

There was so much good stuff here, I ended up having to blog a couple of works separately: Pieter Bruegel de Oude’s De Aanbiddung der Wijze and Peter Paul Rubens’ Vier Studies van het Hoofd van een Moor. The collection here is comparable to the Berlin’s Gemäldegalerie (which I’ve been to several times now), though the gallery itself is nowhere near as conducive to good art viewing. It does flow around in concentric arcs of rooms encouraging diverse meandering, but the lighting, ooh such pain. The ideal of natural light collides solidly with the insane glossy reflectiveness of so very much of art in the past few hundred years. Some of the works suffered terribly, I could barely see them if I stood in front, and was doing severe underexposed and photograph from off to one side tricks to get something part-way useful. I was also a bit shitty after my visit to the poorly curated Jubelparkmuseum / Musée de Cinquantenaire, so when I saw part of the collection was closed, I wanted to start kicking paintings over the balcony.

The first two works, Tafereel van de Septembertagen 1830, op de Grote Markt te Brussel, and Jezus bij Simon Farizeër are in the atrium, along with a few other huge-scale works. Upstairs, in a ring around the space is the Oldmasters Museum. There were so many good works here, I’m not sure what to say on any of them. The panel of the prophet Jeremiah standing on a plinth reading flanked by another panel of Noli me tangere, the background sky a red and blue tapestry. Virgo Inter Virgines, with Saint Agatha and one of her breasts held in pincers like a delectable cake; the two different but both equally beautiful Maria met Kind, especially Quinten Metsys’ one for the expression on her face; the kissing and washing of Jesus’ feet, in Triptiek van de Abdij van Dielegem (the middle panel being again Jezus bij Simon Farizeër), and Jezus in het Huis van Simon de Farizeër; Cranach’s astounding Caritas, the colour of their skin and the shadows almost unearthly.

Later many works by Pieters Brughel the Younger and the Elder, the glorious De Aanbiddung der Wijzen met Sneeuweffect and others completely overshadowed by the uncompleted De Aanbiddung der Wijze. In Triptiek van de Familie Micault, the colour of his skin is distinctly that of a dead person, which is to say there was a particular tone and colour used to represent a person as dead even when they were prancing around. Also the guy on the left panel in the cat clothes. He is totally meme-worthy. Triptiek met de Deugd van het Geduld is one of many that has camels. Camels everywhere. I’ve never seen so many (if any at all) camels in late-mediæval art as I have in Brussels.

The works change to more recognisably Flemish and Netherlandish in Jesus bij Martha en Maria and De Keukenmeid. Both, along with Keukenstuk and Warmoezeniershof are as much about the colour and form of still-lifes of meat, vegetables, fowl as they are about the women in the scene—and women are presented as succulently as the food. It’s kinda debauched.

A couple, Portret van een Bejaarde Dame and De Bankier met zijn Vrouw I liked for themselves though could have excluded from my ridiculously long archive of images, but I kept in because I like them and because of the works’ titles. “An old woman” “his wife” both women are unnamed yet in the former obviously she is someone of bearing and importance—anyone who called her ‘old woman’ she’d just level that withering stare and their cocks would shrivel up. In the latter, the lighting, the strong red of her clothing, him in shadow and almost blending into the background, her attention pulled away from the book to him examining a coin, it seems to me it’s rather the other way around: he is hers; she is the subject.

A quick diversion into Juno voedt Hercules which at first I thought was a Maria lactans, and I suppose Rubens can pretend all he likes it’s not but everything about this work makes it obvious. The prodigious gushing of milk from her breast sprays out into the background covering it like the milky way in night sky. It’s so excessive, almost an equivalent to the bloody Jesus paintings and sculptures of the Northern Germanic middle ages.

Het Atelier van de Schilderessen, differently titled in French as L’atelier des Femmes Peintres, I couldn’t get a full image of it thanks to horrible lighting, but the group of female painters surrounding the model with her massive bludgeon and bearskin, its mouth over her head like a cowl, one of them reading, five of the others drawing and painting her, it’s the two with glowing cigarettes jammed in their mouths I love the most, and I do love everything about this work.

There were other works (oh so many others), as I finished this museum and meandered down, along, up, into the Fin de Siècle Museum (ignoring the Chagall exhibition—far too expensive). Those images are still pestering me to get on and edit, thankfully not so many. Nonetheless, this for the moment is an incomplete account of visiting a museum.

And … pictures!