CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Dames met klasse: Margareta van York en Margareta van Oostenrijk

Women of distinction: Margaret of York and Margaret of Austria Exhibition: 17 September - 18 December 2005


Joris Capenberghs

Scientific co-ordinator

Dagmar Eichberger

Press release, July 2005

Two women held sway in Mechelen five hundred years ago: Margaret of York and Margaret of Austria. Both ladies were widowed at an early age and went on to play an active role in European political and cultural life. They lived on the cusp of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the Old and the New World(s), bridging a whole host of seemingly incompatible human and world views, mentalities and realities. Their courts became halls of learning where young orphaned royals were prepared for ‘real’ life. For example, the youthful Charles, who later became emperor, grew up here under the care and protection of Margaret of Austria.

Scores of artists – such as Pierre de la Rue, Conrad Meit, Jan Gossaert ‘Mabuse’ and Bernard van Orley – worked at and for the court in Mechelen. Erasmus and Albrecht Dürer were among the many visitors. It became a meeting-place for music, visual art and literature, science and religion, as evidenced by the magnificent library stocked with manuscripts and printed books, the impressive portrait gallery, a whole host of religious works, splendid tapestries, a cabinet of curiosities including corals and luxury items from all over the world and the very first collection of exotica from the newly conquered Mexico. But who were these two Margarets? What concerned and interested them? How did they stand their ground in the complex, international power struggle and in what was very much a man’s world? When it came to the crunch, could they hold their own as women and act strategically in important matters of the succession and the family? What was their attitude to role models, paragons of femininity and their lot as widows? How did they express feelings of love, happiness and sorrow? What role did tradition, faith, learning and art play in their lives? Ladies of distinction: Margaret of York and Margaret of Austria is constructed around these and other questions. This major exhibition takes the form of a complex and surprising quest, an encounter in which the two Margarets and the city of Mechelen play the lead roles.

Ladies of distinction: Margaret of York and Margaret of Austria promises to be the highlight of the exhibition calendar in Flanders this autumn! Some 170 objects from all over the world are converging on their former home in Mechelen for the occasion. Museums in London, Washington, Madrid, Vienna, Paris, Berlin, Nürnberg, etc., but also in Flanders and Brussels, are loaning their finest pieces.

And in what a location! The architects of 51N4E have produced a unique and innovative spatial concept for the former brewery Lamot. On this site the pulsating cultural heart of Mechelen will soon beat with a conference and heritage centre LamotTM. In short, a location of distinction, the ideal place to make the acquaintance of Margaret of York and Margaret of Austria.

The architect of the exhibition: Zaha Hadid (UK)

The Baghdad-born, British architect Zaha Hadid has designed the set for the Ladies of distinction exhibition. Last year Zaha Hadid was the first woman to win the Pritzker Architecture Prize and before that the Mies van der Rohe Award for quality architecture in Europe. Her work covers all aspects of design, from urban development projects to products, interiors and furniture. She is remembered for the stylish ‘Borderline’ exhibition at the Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels in 2000.

For Ladies of distinction Zaha Hadid is again collaborating with architect Caroline Voet, who spent two years working for her in London. The exhibition architecture of Ladies of distinction aims to break down the barriers imposed by purely representative surfaces. The surfaces are projected and opened up in a spatial experience, forming a bridge between the visitors and the story the works of art tell. The works of art are more than artistic masterpieces; they are also the building blocks of the collective memory. Zaha Hadid uses the exhibition architecture to link us with that memory. She writes a form of poetry that invites the visitor not just to look, but to discover what is behind the surface.

The LamotTM treasure-house

During Mechelen 2005, City in female hands, the LamotTM treasure-house will be putting the spotlight on a different piece of our heritage each month. The chosen object will derive from an archive, a museum repository or from grandmother’s glass cabinet. Works of art, manuscripts, utensils, but also traditions will be dusted off and put on display. The man or woman who has preserved, cherished and respected that particular piece of our heritage over the years, invariably has a story to tell about it. And, oh yes, you’ll be expected to leave your mark on the treasure-house while you’re there…

The exhibition is the main feature of the manifestation Mechelen 2005, a city in female hands.