The Castle of Gaasbeek

I'd been longing to visit the castle of Gaasbeek for ages and this week the moment had finally come. It was a very bright and sunny day, not too much traffic on the roads around Brussels.
The area, the Pajottenland, where it is said Bruegel worked all these centuries ago, looked very paintable indeed. The view from the surrounding gardens over the fields is breathtaking. We'll definitely be back to have a walk in the adjoining park.

Gaasbeek houses a wealth of artistic treasures, and as any self respecting castle should, has secret passage ways. There are guided tours which last about an hour and worth the while if there aren't too many people in the group. Sometimes it is a bit of a squeeze, a lot of the rooms are very small. Unfortunately we got stuck in a big group. The guide said they were allowed to take up to thirty people in one go, but you can't see half of everything and it is not very safe for all the art work on display. Dr Livingstone remarked he found it very disappointing. Then our guide tried a little harder. She stopped talking to the kids in the childish like manner and got on with it. I don't mind her adapting the tour a little because there are kids present, but there are limits. Talking in a patronising way can be very annoying to others. Myself included.

The history of the building, the surroundings, the people who lived there are fascinating. Lamoraal, Count of Egmont is undoubtedly the most famous resident. He bought the castle in 1565, three years before his dramatic execution.
The last owner of the castle, Marquise Arconati Visconti, had a soft spot for history (she studied at the Sorbonne) and liked to dress up as a man in Renaissance clothes.

She restored the castle and had it refitted from 1887 to 1897 to the neo-styles that were all the rage at the turning of the century. She employed the architect Charles Albert for the reconstruction work. The exterior bears some resemblance to the Chateau de Pierrefonds restored by Viollet-le-Duc.

You do not have enough eyes to see all of it in one go. The heart of the collection dates back to the Scockaert de Tirimont family and remained in the family by inheritance. However, most of the collection was purchased by the Marquise, who intended to turn the castle into a museum of the Renaissance. The pieces she obtained therefore date mainly from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.The mass of objects on display is overwhelming. After her husband died she took up with an antiquarian who was bided to scour the markets for pieces that would embellish the castle's interior.

The thing that fascinated me most were some statuettes in the Ridderzaal. They are of special interest to me. In September the Leuven city museum M will reopen after its refurbishment (by Stéphane Beel) and the first exhibition staged will be about Rogier van der Weyden. Curator Professor Dr Jan Van der Stock gave us a sneak preview of all the things that are going to be in the exhibition.
Among the most 'novel' things on display will be the gisant of the funeral monument of Isabella of Bourbon, wife of Duke Charles the Bold of Burgundy. It was erected in the abbey church of St Michael near Antwerp in 1476 and was robbed of most of its decoration in the 16th or 17th century. Originally the tomb was surrounded by 24 bronze statuettes of noblemen and women standing in niches.

The bronze effigy of Isabella was later moved to the O.-L. Vrouwekathedraal (Cathedral of Our Lady) in Antwerp, where it remains to this day. Nothing more of the tomb furnishings survives, with the exception of ten statuettes in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam. For this exhibition it will be reunited with 10 of the original pleurants which flanked the tomb. Isabella's mausoleum is based on two almost identical tombs which no longer exist. The models for the statuettes are presumed to have been made by Jean Delemer around 1476. They probably closely resembled wooden ones polychromated by Rogier van der Weyden in 1459 which were part of the tomb of Johanna of Brabant (now destroyed).

So although they will be part of the exhibition they have not been 'made' by the master because he had passed away in 1464.
What struck me as odd is why they didn't borrow the ten statuettes that are in Gaasbeek to use in the exhibition. They're the same ones! It guess it would have been cheaper to exhibit these. It is hardly a well kept secret the statuettes are there.

In the museum shop Dr Livingstone bought some throat lozenges from the Officina Profumo- Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, a Florentine pharmacy founded by Dominicans in 1221. The perfumes and other scented products are still being made today following the centuries old recipes, all based on natural herbs and oils of the highest standards, grown in the hills around Florence.

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