If you only had time to visit one museum in Bruges, it would be, without any doubt, the Bruges Fine Arts Museum, also called the Groeninge Museum. It houses one of the best collections of Flemish paintings. The Flemish painting gave Belgium and the Netherlands an important place in the pictorial field during the last period of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Modern Age. In short, the museum offers you a large number of paintings that summarize the Belgian art history.
The Groeninge museum started as a drawing academy founded in 1716. The initial collection of artworks was gathered thanks to some artists’ donations and it continued to grow during the XIX century.
A little palace built between 1929 and 1930 hosts the museum and it is placed on the former site of the Eekhoutabdij, the Eekhout Augustinian Abbey. As the building is not too big, tourists can easily move between the different rooms of the museum, one for each pictorial period. This art itinerary starts with the Flemish Primitives from the XV century, it continues with masterpieces from the Renaissance (XVI century) and artworks from the later centuries, as the Neoclassic pieces (XVII and XIX century), the Flemish Expressionism, the Modern Art from the post-war period as well as the impressionist René Magritte, to finally conclude with the temporary exhibitions of contemporary artists.
The museum was enlarged in 1994 but still, the size of the building is not too vast and that is why the artworks showed at the museum rotate.
The jewel of the Bruges Fine Arts Museum, or Groeninge Museum is the artwork painted in 1436 by Jan van Eyck called “Madonna with Canon Van der Paele”.
THE FLEMISH PRIMITIVES
During the XV century, Bruges figured among the main art centers in Europe. Jan van Eyck, Petrus Christus, Hans Memling y Gerard David used to work in the city. Those artists and their contemporaries Flemish painters were called the Early Netherlandish, also known as the Flemish Primitives. Their paintings were characterized by a very realistic representation of details and by the special care given to the accurate reproduction of materials and textures. In their works, metals and precious stones reflect the light and the skin seem so soft that makes you want to touch it.
Those artists were able to show such a big brilliance through the use of oil painting. They mixed the pigments with linseed oil and not with egg yolk, as it used to be done until this moment. The oil painting existed already before the Flemish Primitives, but they were the ones who refined the technique and achieved an unprecedented perfection. In fact, they became notorious and famous painters while they were alive, something very unusual at their period.
The name given to this group of artists, Flemish Primitives, is to say the least, inaccurate. Nowadays, when we speak about Flemish people, we tend to think that we refer only to people living in Flanders, but in the past the word “Flemish” referred to a wider group of people, those living in the current Belgium and Nederland. In addition, they were called “primitives” because they were compared to the Italian Renaissance artists and their painting was thus considered as dark, an ancient and “primitive” movement belonging to the Middle Ages.
But, in spite of this name, the Flemish artists were, together with the Italian, at the forefront of the European painting, but each with their own characteristics and personality. The subject of the Flemish Primitives paintings was mainly religious and social. Moreover in their works, they moved beyond the flat perspective developing three-dimensional pictorial spaces, and the scenes were extremely planned and detailed. For instance, in some of their works we can see represented plant species that did not even exist in that moment in Europe. This example perfectly shows the high level of research and detail achieved by these artists.
It is during this period when painters are no longer just artisans who produced anonymous works and they begin to sign their masterpieces becoming genuine art stars. Some of them became quite renowned while they were alive, such as the Van Eyck brothers, Rogier van der Weyden, Hugo van der Goes, Petrus Christus, Pieter Pourbus, Hans Memling or Gerard David among others.
Dijver 12, 8000 Bruges
- From Tuesday to Sunday: from 9:30 to 17:00. Last entrance at 16:30.
- Closed: 25th December, 1st January and the Ascension Day.
- Adults: 8 €.
- Children under 12 years: Free.
- Seniors 65+: 6 €.
- Youngsters under 26 years: 6 €.
- This fee entrance includes also the entrance to the Arentshuis Museum
HOW TO GET THERE
If we want to get to the Groeninge Museum, we should pass on the right side of the Church of Our Lady walking through a little garden of Tilia with curious shapes. At the end of this garden we will find the backside of the church and we should see there, on your left side the Gruuthuse Museum. Now we will cross Saint Bonifacius Bridge and we will turn left to get to a square with two big columns in the middle. If we continue straight, we will cross a sort of private garden with modern sculptures and a big building, this is the Groeninge Museum. In any case, we can also get to the Museum from the side of the building overlooking the Dijver canal. If we go this way, we will be on the museum gardens and from there, we will get to the entrance of the building.
- Church of Our Lady (80 m).
- Saint John hospital (200 m).
- Saint Salvator’s Cathedral (300 m).
- Burg Square (600 m).