CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Liefde & Devotie: het Gruuthusehandschrift

Love & Devotion: the Gruuthuse Manuscript Exhibition: 22 March - 23 June 2013

Information from the exhibition website,

Egidius… waer bestu bleven

Is one word enough for you to complete this sentence? If so, then you know it’s the opening line of the Song of Egidius, a gem from Middle Dutch literature. The text is part of an extensive parchment manuscript that contains poems, prayers and songs. It was written in Bruges around 1400 and is now known as the Gruuthuse Manuscript.

For centuries this remarkable manuscript was privately owned, and then in 2007 it was purchased by the Dutch Royal Library. This spring there will a unique opportunity to see it in the Gruuthuse Museum.

Unique artefacts will bring the writing and its subjects back to life. They sketch a picture of the cultural, social and religious climate of Bruges, which was an international trading city in the early 15th century.

Furthermore, you will find out who Egidius was… and what happened to him.

The highlight of this exhibition is obviously the Gruuthuse Manuscript. However, the work is also the ideal starting point from which to create an image of life in late medieval Bruges, which at that time was an international trading post.

The key motifs are the themes found in the manuscript itself: music, love, ‘const’ (art), companionship and devotion. Not only do they provide a picture of the rich content of the manuscript, they also tell us more about the cultural, social and religious climate of the time.

About 200 objects from the period around 1400 and equivalent pieces of contemporary visual art bring the texts to life: sculptures, manuscripts, jewellery, decorative and household objects, archaeological relics and archive material.

The exhibition themes


The introduction gives a brief outline of the history of the Gruuthuse Manuscript and its succession of owners: from Lodewijk van Gruuthuse and the noble Van Caloen family to the Dutch Royal Library in The Hague. Attention is also paid to the scholarly study of the manuscript, publications and the familiarity of several songs.

Bruges around 1400

Here you will learn more about the context in which the manuscript came into being. At that time Bruges was home to many international merchants and luxury industries. In addition a well-educated urban bourgeoisie played an important role in its cultural, social and religious life.

The Gruuthuse Manuscript and other collective manuscripts

The Gruuthuse Manuscript is of course unique, but as an anthology manuscript it is part of a wider European tradition. For that reason the exhibition is bringing together the most important Middle Dutch anthology manuscripts, in addition to examples from the French and German traditions.


The song lyrics in the manuscript are partly accompanied by simplified musical notation. This consists of dashes and provides little indication of rhythm, key and the relationship between syllables and melody. In that period, however, there was a ‘professional’ musical notation that would indicate this. This suggests therefore that the dash notation was intended for the bourgeoisie. They identify themselves primarily with music for a single voice, in contrast to the polyphony of the church and secular elites.

This theme is also illustrated by comparable and other forms of musical notation, contemporary depictions of figures playing music and authentic musical instruments.

In this room you will also discover who Egidius is, the much-lamented man from the eponymous song. Thanks to archive documents, researchers have succeeded in uncovering his identity.


Most songs tell of the courtly or formal love as was usual in the court, sometimes arising from a certain occasion such as New Year, the month of May or a farewell. The texts regularly report that love brings luck if it is reciprocated. The manuscript also contains non-courtly songs about betrayal, adultery and sex. They are meant to be amusing, but give a flavour of what sort of behaviour was deemed objectionable.

The various kinds of love are demonstrated in pictures, texts and symbols on jewellery, boxes, combs, mirrors and sculptures.


The first love allegory in the Gruuthuse Manuscript broaches the topic of ‘const’. ‘Const’ is the result of an excellent craftsman giving his product just that little bit extra. This skill can be demonstrated in various professions: a well thought-out prediction, the exact calculation of the content of a barrel, a piece of immaculately executed embroidery, the most refined piece of silverwork or stained-glass windows in the most exquisite colours.


Around 1400, community life revolved around several main elements: religion (brotherhoods), professional life (crafts), free time and culture, and also friendship. You will be able to ascertain which community some writers and users of the Gruuthuse Manuscript belonged to. In the exhibition you will get to know them better by means of archive material, manuscripts and works of art that were made at their request.


The Gruuthuse Manuscript contains not only prayers, but also a number of poems and songs in which religion plays a prominent role. There are also many references to the devotional context in Bruges: to the veneration of the Virgin Mary and of other saints, to brotherhoods and pilgrimages.

The exhibited sculptures and manuscripts are above all evidence of a devotion to and idealisation of the Virgin Mary and allusions to the passion of Christ.

The exhibition ends in the gothic prayer chapel of the Gruuthuse Palace, which is directly connected to the high choir of Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk. There you can admire another four manuscripts which have writings copied from the Gruuthuse Manuscript.

The fact that the manuscript can still inspire people today is proof of the artistic talent of Jeroen D’hoe (music) and Brody Neuenschwander (calligraphy).

The exhibition venue

The Gruuthuse Museum is a city palace, built in the 15th century. Its most famous resident was Lodewijk van Gruuthuse (approx. 1427-1492), warrior, counsellor and chamberlain of the Dukes of Burgundy. He owned an extensive library containing more than one hundred illuminated or illustrated manuscripts. It is assumed that the Gruuthuse Manuscript also belonged to his bibliographic collection.

Over the centuries the Gruuthuse Palace has undergone numerous changes. Since its extensive restoration in the late 19th century it has been in use as a museum.

Related events

News about this exhibition