The Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten in Antwerp, the Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst in Antwerp and the Plantin-Moretus/Prentenkabinet Museum study the development of Western visual culture through works by old masters and contemporary artists. Antwerp was a world centre for the development of imagery in the 16th and 17th centuries. Visual arts from the city on the Scheldt are still being internationally acclaimed today.
Artists initially attempted to portray the divine or superhuman through the use of precious materials. This was the case, for example, with icons or golden coins that portrayed kings and emperors. The first revolution came in the work of the Flemish Primitives, who wanted to portray the divine by reflecting details of everyday life. God was everywhere, including in the small things.
The economic success and prosperity in Antwerp resulted in new commissions in the 16th century. Rich citizens wanted to display art in their homes. A new concept was created for the image: ready-made artworks to suit everyone’s tastes, with new themes, which could be purchased in a shop.
Moreover, the image was democratised during this period. Besides paintings, people could now also purchase prints, which were cheaper. The market for images from Antwerp grew significantly thanks to the art of printing: the prints were exported to the new world by ship. At the time, cities such as Antwerp laid the foundations for the international mass media as we know it today.
We are now swamped with sensational images. When the mass media became hyperactive, our own artists distanced themselves once more from this flood of images. Just like their predecessors, contemporary artists devote a considerable amount of attention to the everyday. They search for meaning in that which appears coincidental. Still images provide an alternative to the reverberating consumer society. They open our eyes once more to the essence of the image.
Masterpieces in the MAS. Five centuries of images in Antwerp showcases masterpieces by such artists as Abraham Ortelius, Adriaen Brouwer, Adriaen Collaert, Anne-Mie Van Kerckhoven, Jacob Jordaens, James Ensor, Jan Fabre, Jan Brueghel the Elder, Jan van Eyck, Jean Fouquet, Joachim Patinir, Koen van den Broek, Luc Tuymans, Marlene Dumas, Narciss Tordoir, Panamarenko, Paulus Pontius, Peter Paul Rubens, Raoul De Keyser, Rogier van der Weyden, Simone Martini.
The exhibition’s main feature is the Wunderkammer, the laboratory of the emerging knowledge economy. Visitors can reflect on our marvellous world in this space and ‘re-think’ themselves.