CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

CODART ELF Congress: background information

Background information: our hosts, excursions and workshops

The eastern Flemish town of Ghent is located at the confluence of the Scheldt and the Lys. Thanks to its cloth industry, Ghent flourished from the 13th through the 15th centuries, and its wealth and prosperity are reflected in the town’s buildings and institutions. Following a period of decline, the city – now under the control of France – was reborn in the early 19th century as a center for cotton weaving and the textile industry. A large number of late 18th-century mansions bear witness to this renewal. During the congress there will be an opportunity to visit some of these hôtels, many of which are still in private hands. We will also visit Ghent’s famous churches, with The adoration of the mystic lamb by the brothers Hubert and Jan van Eyck (1432) in Sint-Baafskathedraal as an indisputable highlight.

Our hosts

Museum voor Schone Kunsten Gent (Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent)

The Museum of Fine Arts is one of the oldest museums in Belgium, founded in 1798. The current museum was built to a design by Karel Van Rysselberghe and completed in 1904. It is situated in the Citadelpark, which was laid out between 1872 and 1890. In spring 2007 the museum reopened after some years of building work, with a completely renewed interior – a topic for discussion in one of the workshops. The museum displays include numerous highlights of painting in the Low Countries, such as Hieronymus Bosch’s Carrying of the Cross, Maarten van Heemskerck’s Man of Sorrows, Pieter II Brueghel’s Wedding Banquet, as well as works by Rubens, Van Dyck and Snyders.

Ghent University and The Aula

Ghent’s state university was founded on 25 September 1816 by King Willem I. From 1830 until 1923 all teaching was delivered in French (switching to Dutch during World War I); from 1923 both French and Dutch were used, then from 1930 it has been exclusively in Dutch. The foundation stone of the present Aula building was laid on 4 August 1819. A monumental doorway with its eight Corinthian columns leads to the meeting hall. A staircase decorated with historical mural paintings leads to the great circular Aula, which is in the form of an amphitheatre, and is itself topped by a dome, also set on Corinthian columns, and with a gallery encircling it. Today, the tone of the Aula is set by its rich 19th century decoration. Above the podium are three niches, the middle of which was intended to contain a statue of Willem I. The Aula is also decorated with a frieze painted with portraits of academics from the northern and southern Netherlands.

Stadhuis (Townhall)

Work began in 1518 on the design by Domien de Waghemakere and Rombout Keldermans for a new townhall, built around the core of an older one. Work was interrupted in 1535 and only started again after a break of 60 years. The two styles can easily be distinguished. The 16th-century Schepenhius van de Keure (Aldermen’s House) is a conspicuous example of the Brabant late gothic style, with a corner tower. The later extension that forms part of the building to the left, the Schepenbank van Ghedeele (1595-1620) shows the influence of the Italian Renaissance. The south façade dates from the 18th century. The grandest space within is the Hall of Peace.


Churches of Ghent

The churches of Ghent, including Sint-Baafskathedraal with The adoration of the mystic lamb by the brothers Hubert and Jan van Eyck (1432), and the crypt with 15th- and 16th-century mural decorations; Sint-Michielskerk with a Crucifixion by Anthony van Dyck and works by, among others, J.-B. de Champaigne, Gerard Seghers and Karel van Mander; Sint-Niklaaskerk, which contains works by Nicolaas de Liemaeckere and Erasmus Quellin; Sint-Jacobskerk with a tabernacle of 1593 executed in black and white marble and copper, as well as paintings by Jan van Cleef and Caspar de Crayer; Sint-Martinuskerk with paintings by Caspar de Crayer and Jan van Cleef, among others. If there is enough time we will also visit the former episcopal seminar on the corner of Biezekapelstraat and Kapittelstraat, the Sint-Pietersabdij and the Baroque abbey church, as well as the church of the abbey of Baudelo.

Sint-Pietersplein (St Peter’s Abbey)

St Peter’s Abbey was built between 630 and 650 and developed into one of the most important abbeys in Flanders. It was badly damaged during the religious conflicts of the 16th century. To a large extent the remains of the abbey have been rebuilt in a modern style, keeping as far as possible to the original layout. In 1796, during French rule, the last monks were expelled from the buildings. This meant the end of its use as an abbey. After 1950, reconstruction of the buildings began and they now house, among other things, the Centre for Art and Culture, the International Club of Flanders, and a restaurant. The original refectory wing of the medieval building still stands. The Baroque church of St Peter and our Lady was completed to a design by the Huyssens brothers in 1719. It contains paintings by Theodor van Thulden, Gerard Seghers, Pieter Norbert van Reysschoot and others.

University Library Ghent and the Boekentoren (Tower of Books)

Ghent’s university library comprises a large number of interesting manuscripts, incunablae, and prints and drawings. During the excursion visitors will be able to see, among others, the 12th-century Liber Floris, drawings by Xavier De Cock and Rubens, and the archive of Frederik de Smet. The building that houses the institution is as interesting as the collection. The Vertical Library is located in the so-called Boekentoren, designed in 1933 by Henry van de Velde, one of the pioneers of modern architecture in Belgium. Van de Velde was a multi-talented artist, and designed every detail: the black steel window frames, patterned floors, door handles, furniture, and even the radiator covers. The visit will allow time to climb the Book Tower using the lift as far as the Belvedere (viewpoint).

Bijloke Museum and the Bijlokesite

One of the main attractions of this museum is the building itself, which is composed of a series of brick structures from the 14th to the 17th centuries that once formed the Cistercian convent of Bijloke. The Historical Museum housed here is currently closed for restoration. The CODART group can however look at the outstanding 14th-century refectory, with frescoes of the Last Supper painted in 1325 by an unknown master.

City Palaces

In the 18th century numerous city palaces were built by textile barons. A few of these can be visited by the public (sometimes as museums), while other residences in private ownership can only be visited in exceptional circumstances – for example by the CODART group. Excursions 1 en 2 allow visits to a selection of the following palaces:

Hotel de Coninck/Designmuseum

This patrician house of 1755, which now houses the Design Museum, is named after the most important owner in its history: F.J. de Coninck, a linen wholesaler. The residence still contains several period interiors, and there is a modern extension with displays of 20th century design.

Hotel d’Hane-Steenhuyse

This city palace in Louis XV style was built in 1768 by the d’Hane family, probably from a design by the architect David ‘t Kindt. It has a jutting façade to the front, and is decorated above with an allegorical sculpture of Time and History. The face to the rear is carried out in the Louis XV style and dates from 1773. The interior of the palace contains a variety of rooms, including the Hall of the Four Seasons, with panels painted by Pieter Norbert van Reysschoot, and the Italian ballroom with a gallery, which was also painted with allegorical pictures by Pieter Norbert van Reysschoot and other members of this family of painters. There are also reconstructions of the 18th century wallpaper hangings. Some fame attaches to this residence from the illustrious guests who lived there from a time, such as Alexander I, the Russian Tsar (1814), Prince Frederick of Orange (1814, 1815) and King Louis XVII of France (1815) together with his loyal courtiers –including Chateaubriand – who were fleeing Napoleon on his return from Elba. The building is currently state property.

Hotel Arnold Vander Haeghen

The Hotel Vander Haegen, or Hotel Clemmen was built in about 1746 to plans by the architect David ‘t Kindt. In 1771 it became property of Joost Clemmen who completed the facade in a classicizing Louis XV style. To the rear, on the banks of the Leie, he created a building for a cotton factory. In 1836 the property was bought by the Vander Haeghen family. Currently it is a museum, having permanent displays such as the gallery dedicated to the nobel prize-winner Maurice Maeterlinck. The residence’s greatest treasure is the original 18th century Chinese silk hangings in the Chinese Salon.

Hotel Falligan

This residence is a Rococo building dating from 1755, built for Hector Falliga, possibly to plans by Bernard de Wilde. The salons are decorated and furnished in the spirit of the 18th century. The Club des Nobles which has been established there since 1804, still has its meeting room in the building. This residence is currently in private hands, and closed to the public.

Hotel Vanden Meersche

This patrician house is named after Jean-Baptist Ignace Vanden Meersche, who bought the plot on which it stands in 1736. Since 1892 it has been the property of the Sisters of the Childhood of Jesus, and can only be visited by appointment. This residence contains a special staircase, with oak rococo stairs, with mythological mural paintings, and various period interiors.

Hotel Reylof

Olivier Reylof constructed this townhouse in 1724. Of its original form in the 18th century only the main floor-plan remains as well as part of the interior. During recent restoration the original interiors (including imitation marble surfaces) were partly reinstated according the original plan.

Huis van Oombergen (KANTL)

The KANTL (Royal Academy of Dutch Language and Literature) is based in a townhouse that was designed and built in 1746-1748 by David ‘t Kind, who was the dominant figure in Ghent Rococo architecture. Over the course of time the house was lived in by a number of families, and was repeatedly altered to suit the tastes of each. In 1892 it was bought by the Belgian state, and was rebuilt and decorated in a striking neo-rococo style. The remarkable feature of this building is the successful integration of the building with its surroundings.


Workshop 1: Restoration projects, chaired by Edwin Buijsen

The restoration of museum objects of an exceptional stature (in size and/or reputation) is nowadays often presented as a public event that can be followed at close range by the museum visitor. This workshop addresses the various issues involved with major restoration projects, such as the formation and consultation of an advisory committee, the coordination of art historical and technical research, dealing with publicity, providing educational and scholarly publications and arranging special museum presentations during and after restoration. Attention will also be paid to the collaboration between museum curators, conservators and educational staff within these projects. Speakers are Micha Leeflang, curator, Museum Catharijneconvent, Utrecht and Hélène Dubois, scientific collaborator Rubens Project, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels (until December 31, 2007); conservator-researcher, KIK-IRPA: The Royal Institute for the Study and Conservation of Belgium’s Artistic Heritage (from January 1, 2008)

Workshop 2: Cataloguing the collections, chair to be announced

In the quest for the visitors museums and galleries depend on roughly the same target groups. An interesting building, a convincing permanent presentation and a spectacular program of temporary exhibitions (among other things) have to lure the individuals and groups to your entrance hall and beyond. Considering this, researching and subsequently cataloguing the collection, clearly a curator’s task, is a lot less appealing to the public. Cataloguing projects also tend to take a lot of time and weigh heavily on the year’s budget. Although in the long run the results can often be linked to exhibitions attractive to the museum visitor, the main thread to thorough research by the curator generally can come from within the organisation, which is judging the colleague’s efforts as time-consuming and not sexy enough.

Workshop 3: Post World War II provenance research, recovery and restitution, chaired by Eric Domela Nieuwenhuizen

Art restitution refers to the return of an museum object from a museum to a party found to have a prior and continuing relationship with the object, which is seen to override the claims of the holding museum. Although many museums have received requests for restitution of objects for many years, the number of claims and the variety of sources from which they have emanated have increased substantially in recent times. The last eight years the Dutch Government returned more that 250 Dutch and Flemish paintings to claimants. Many of these works of art were of loan in Dutch Museums. But also museums in other European and American countries had to return important works of art to survivors of the Holocaust and their heirs. Some experts say between 250,000 and 600,000 pieces of art looted by the Nazis are still held by museums, governments and private collectors. Only a tiny fraction have been returned to the original owners or their heirs. Responsibility for decisions on restitution requests lies with museums; governing bodies. They are best placed to examine the validity of a request. But what are the responsibilities of the museum directors and their curators?

Workshop 5: Scholarly research of the museum collection: a task for the curator? Chaired by Helen Wustefeld

A complaint often heard from museum curators – especially in informal chats during the CODART congress – is that their continuous involvement with organizing exhibitions and other management tasks leaves them hardly any time for in-depth research on works of art in their collection. It appears that scholarly research is more and more pushed outside the museum’s core business. Therefore the question should be asked whether ongoing research of the own collection is of the highest importance for a museum? And if so, how could this be stimulated? Should the museum curator be allowed to spend more time on research (and in which ways can this be accomplished)? Or is it better for a museum to stimulate the investigation of its collection by outside scholars, for instance in close cooperation with universities?