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The Royal Museums of Fine Arts is a collection of six Brussels museums, of which we only actually visited one. At the time of our visit there were only four museums in this group, and before 1927 there was just one. This museum was established in 1801 by a decree from French First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte, with the museum’s doors first opening to the public in 1803. The museum was owned by the city of Brussels until 1842, when it was transferred to the state. Additional artworks were acquired over the years, with the older artworks (mainly pre-19th Century) eventually being split off into their own museum, the Museum of Ancient Art. This is the museum we visited. It now has the redundant name of Musée Oldmasters Museum and has quite a large collection. There is art from throughout Europe, but the emphasis, as one would expect, is on paintings produced in the area of present-day Belgium and the Netherlands.

We trudged back up the Coudenberg hill to where the Oldmasters Museum was located (along with a Modern Art museum and a museum devoted to Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte) and paid our admission fee. Normally there’s a direct connection between the Oldmasters Museum and the Modern Art museum, but the Modern Art museum was being renovated at the time of our visit, so that option was not available to us.

As we’d seen in numerous other museums, the earliest paintings in the Oldmasters Museum collection focused exclusively on Biblical themes. With certain episodes being more popular than others among artists (or sponsors), there was a fair amount of repetition in the themes, though there were a variety of interpretations. Some of the works depicted scenes from the Old Testament.


The Fall of the Rebel Angels
The Fall of the Rebel Angels, Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1562)
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Tower of Babel
Tower of Babel, Joos de Momper II and Frans Francken II
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Susanna and the Elders
Susanna and the Elders, Jacob Jordaens (17th C.)
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Susanna and the Elders
Susanna and the Elders, Jan Massys (1567)
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New Testament works seemed to be more plentiful, though.

The Annunciation
The Annunciation, Master of Flémalle
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Adoration of the Magi
Adoration of the Magi, Cornelis de Baellieur I
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Adoration of the Magi
Adoration of the Magi, Peter Paul Rubens
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Virgin and Child
Virgin and Child, Hans Memling (15th C.)
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The Brotherhood of St. Anne in Leuven
Triptych of the Brotherhood of St. Anne in Leuven, Quinten Metsys (1509)
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Jesus at the Home of Simon the Pharisee
Jesus at the Home of Simon the Pharisee, Bonifazio Veronese
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Jesus in the House of Simon the Pharisee
Jesus in the House of Simon the Pharisee, Albrecht Bouts
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Triptych of the Abbey of Dieleghem
Triptych of the Abbey of Dieleghem, Master of 1518 (1518)
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Jesus Instructing Nicodemus
Jesus Instructing Nicodemus, Jacob Jordaens (17th C.)
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The Road to Calvary
The Road to Calvary, Peter Paul Rubens and Workshop
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Mary Magdelene Repentant
Mary Magdelene Repentant, Hieronymous du Quesnoy I (attr.)
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The Assumption of the Virgin
The Assumption of the Virgin, Peter Paul Rubens and Workshop
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Coronation of the Virgin

Coronation of the Virgin, Peter Paul Rubens
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Lives and deaths of saints, usually martyred, could be especially dramatic.

Scenes from the Legend of St. Barbara
Scenes from the Legend of St. Barbara, Master of the Legend of St. Barbara
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The Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine
The Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine, Otto Vaenius (1589)
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Virgin Among Virgins
Virgin Among Virgins, Master of the Legend of St. Lucy (15th C.)
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Triptych of the Temptation of St. Anthony
Triptych of the Temptation of St. Anthony, Hieronymus Bosch
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The Martyrdom of St. Livinus
The Martyrdom of St. Livinus, Peter Paul Rubens (1633)
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The Last Judgment
The Last Judgment, School of the South Netherlands (15th C.)
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Eventually artists veered off into ancient mythological stories, which had plenty of (often salacious) drama of their own.

Venus Riding a Satyr
Venus Riding a Satyr, Dirck de Quade van Ravesteyn
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Venus and Cupid
Venus and Cupid, Lucas Cranach the Elder (1531)
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Mars Disarmed by Venus
Mars Disarmed by Venus, Jacques-Louis David (1824)
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Pan and Syrinx
Pan and Syrinx, Jacob Jordaens (17th C.)
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The Wedding of Thetis and Peleus
The Wedding of Thetis and Peleus, Hendrick van Balen
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The Marriage of Bacchus and Ariadne
The Marriage of Bacchus and Ariadne, Jan Brueghel I and Hendrick van Balen
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Some works were allegorical in nature, inviting viewers to come up with their own interpretations.

Charity
Charity, Lucas Cranach the Younger (16th C.)
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Triptych of the Virtue of Patience
Triptych of the Virtue of Patience, Bernard van Orley (1521)
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Artists eventually came to present-day reality for their subjects, depicting scenes from the lives of common people and from nature. The younger and elder Brueghels could produce canvases so crowded with figures that they looked like early "Where’s Waldo?" pictures.

The Return of the Pilgrimage
The Return of the Pilgrimage, Pieter Bruegel II
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The Fair of Impruneta
The Fair of Impruneta, after Jacques Callot
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Wedding Dance in the Open Air
Wedding Dance in the Open Air, Pieter Brueghel the Younger (1607)
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The Battle of Carnival and Lent
The Battle of Carnival and Lent, Pieter Brueghel the Younger
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The Census at Bethlehem
The Census at Bethlehem, Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1566)
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The Census at Bethlehem
The Census at Bethlehem, Pieter Brueghel the Younger (1610)
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The Adoration of the Magi in the Snow
The Adoration of the Magi in the Snow, Pieter Brueghel the Younger
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Card Players in a Tavern
Card Players in a Tavern, David Teniers II (ca. 1644-45)
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The Rhetoricians 'In Love Free'
The Rhetoricians "In Love Free", Jan Steen
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The King Drinking
The King Drinking, Jacob Jordaens (17th C.)
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Bob and 'Panels of the Justice of the Emperor Otto'

Bob and Panels of the Justice of the Emperor Otto, Dirk Bouts (15th C.)
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Undergrowth with Flowers, Animals and Insects
Undergrowth with Flowers, Animals and Insects, Abraham Mignon
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Landscape with River
Landscape with River, Jacob van Ruisdael and Adriaen van de Velde
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After the Reformation, in Protestant areas artists didn’t have the decoration-minded Catholic church to rely on for business, so they ended up painting many portraits of members of the upper and middle classes. Many of these portraits were near-photographic in their accuracy.

Portrait of Antonio Anselmo, His Wife and Children
Portrait of Antonio Anselmo, His Wife and Children, Marten de Vos (1577)
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Portraits of Willem Moreel and His Wife
Portraits of Willem Moreel and His Wife, Hans Memling (15th C.)
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Portrait of Nicolaes van Bambeeck
Portrait of Nicolaes van Bambeeck, Rembrandt van Rijn (1641)
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Portrait of Johanna van Heyst
Portrait of Johanna van Heyst, Michiel van Mierevelt (1627)
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Archduke Leopold William in his Gallery of Italian Paintings
Archduke Leopold William in his Gallery of Italian Paintings, David Teniers II (1651)
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Four Studies of the Head of a Moor
Four Studies of the Head of a Moor, Peter Paul Rubens
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John Willett, Magistrate

John Willett, Magistrate, Michael Rysbrack (1763)
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Late in the 18th Century the American and French Revolutions brought profound challenges to the unquestioning obedience to royalty that had existed for centuries. Artists started to depict historical scenes reflecting these changes, eventually moving on into the Romantic area. But this is where the collection of the Oldmasters Museum came to an end.

The Assassination of Marat
The Assassination of Marat, Jacques-Louis David (1793)
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Episode of the September Days 1830
Episode of the September Days 1830, Gustaf Wappers (1835)
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We moved on ourselves, returning back down the hill to start packing up, as this was our last evening in Brussels. We enjoyed a leisurely dinner, reflecting on Brussels as a city for consumers (and not for dieters, as noted in a previous page), and thought about some of the things we had most enjoyed consuming. Which leads to our final Brussels page…

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