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Five artful city trips

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Schilderij Jacopo Pesaro, bisschop van Paphos, door paus Alexander VI Borgia voorgesteld aan de heilige Petrus van Titiaan

Wanderlust? Our works of art have itchy feet too. Which is why our key exhibits are showing their best side right now at top museums in Belgium and abroad. Can’t wait for the museum to reopen to see them again? Then take a city trip and admire them right now! Five destinations, five masterpieces.

1. Ostend: The Rooftops of Ostend, James Ensor

A day by the seaside is always nice. Even if you can’t always rely on sunshine. We’ve all seen the sky blurring into the sea at the coast. Fifty shades of grey, but beautiful and constantly changing. The wind is a brief, transitory sculptor. Those masses of cloud look different from one second to another. Now and then the sun lights up a particular wisp. Or shines right through the clouds, like a sign from the heavens. And then the rain begins to pour, whipped by the wind. The sea reflects this ferment, the tall waves joining the game played by the weather.

Schilderij Daken in Oostende van James Ensor
The Rooftops of Ostend James Ensor

James Ensor clearly relished this typically Belgian sky in his painting The Rooftops of Ostend. He set it down in thick strokes over a thin layer of paint: not precise, but highly tangible. Especially on such a large scale – roughly two by one and a half metres, which is unusual for an abstract landscape like this. You’d better take your raincoat. Or maybe just drop in at Mu.ZEE and let those clouds swallow you up.

Dreams of Mother-of-Pearl: The KMSKA’s Ensor collection in Ostend

Until 1 March 2020


2. Amsterdam: Bernardo Bembo, Hans Memling

Hans Memling was gespecialiseerd in portretten, van (jonge) mannen, met een weelderige haardos. Niet exclusief, natuurlijk. Maar mannelijke opdrachtgevers waren er bij Memling van verzekerd dat hun kapsel shampooreclame waardig was. Zo ook Bernardo Bembo op dit portret. Memling schilderde de Venetiaanse ambassadeur en staatsman in een modieus zwart kostuum tegen een landschap vol details. Zo’n portret met landschap was een trend in Italië en Memling was één van de eersten in onze contreien om de mode over te nemen.

Schilderij Man met de munt van Hans Memling
Bernardo Bembo, Statesman and Ambassador of Venice Hans Memling

Unusually for this painter, his subject is looking right at us. Albeit with a slightly distant expression. Perhaps he’s already dreaming of his next port of call? Having spent some time in Amsterdam, he’s due to travel on to Paris in October. To the Louvre, for the Leonardo da Vinci retrospective, where he’ll be reunited with the famous portrait of the aristocratic Ginevra de’ Benci? It was mostly likely Bernardo Bembo who asked the young Leonardo to paint her portrait. Bembo and de’ Benci were both married and their relationship was platonic. Love is in the air.

Bernardo Bembo, Statesman and Ambassador of Venice

Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, until 6 October

Louvre, Paris, from 24 October 2019 to 24 February 2020

3. Antwerp: The Dance, Fausto Melotti

Feel like dancing? Maybe these ten dancing couples by Fausto Melotti will inspire you. You know that kind of art where nothing seems right, but which still captures everything perfectly? That’s The Dance, which uses metal wire to represent the swirling people. Or rather, one person in each couple stands still, preparing for the next step: it’s their partner who twists and turns like a mini-whirlwind. You could hardly represent dance steps more simply. And yet those bits of wire are all you need to see the entire movement. It’s the very essence of art. So it’s little wonder that the jewellery designers Wouter & Hendrix selected this work for their ‘Room of Wonder 'at DIVA.

Sculptuur De dans van Fausto Melotti
The Dance Fausto Melotti

The Italian artist Fausto Melotti wanted to make art that was weightless and in total harmony. The Plexiglas still has a little weight, but the figures’ lack of real bodies makes them light. The ten couples are arranged at equal distances from one another in two rows. Music was the sculptor’s great love. The Dance makes the rhythm of the notes tangible and gives new meaning to the word ‘light-footed’. Let’s dance!

Room of Wonder II: Wouters & Hendrix

13 September 2019 – 16 February 2020

Venice: Jacopo Pesaro, Bishop of Paphos, being presented by Pope Alexander VI Borgia to St Peter, Titian

That’s a pretty long title with a lot of information. But the image in the painting no longer tells us a great deal. What we do know is that world leaders still choose symbolic settings for picture opportunities with other prominent figures. You only have to think of President Trump meeting the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. In this painting, it’s Jacopo Pesaro, the bishop of what is now Cyprus, who has just won an important victory over the Turks. As his reward, the prelate and military commander gets to meet a high-ranking saint. That’s not exactly easy to arrange, so a pope is needed as middleman.

Schilderij Jacopo Pesaro, bisschop van Paphos, door paus Alexander VI Borgia voorgesteld aan de heilige Petrus van Titiaan
Jacopo Pesaro, Bishop of Paphos, being presented by Pope Alexander VI Borgia to St Peter Titian

Pesaro himself commissioned the painting from Titian’s teacher Bellini, who set down the initial lines. Titian was still in his twenties and he spent seven years working on it. You can really tell: there’s a time-shift in this painting between St Peter and the bishop and the pope. Where the wooden saint drowns in his pink drapery, the two other men are realistic portraits, with the magnificent papal mantle as the highpoint. Titian knew by then how to use his oils to convey the sheen and texture of the fabrics. It is highly unusual to be able to witness the maker’s development in a single work. And that makes this painting unique. It was another leader incidentally – King William I – who bought the work for the museum.

Da Tiziano a Rubens

5 October 2019–1 March 2020

Palazzo Ducale

5. Vienna: Madonna at the Fountain, Jan van Eyck

A hand measuring just 3 mm, a 1 mm flower bud: everything is miniaturized in Jan van Eyck’s Madonna at the Fountain. But all to maximum effect. This Madonna is the Flemish master’s smallest known panel. Even so, Van Eyck successfully created a precious scene in gold, brocade and mother-of-pearl within a highly compact composition. Painted two years before his death, this is the work of an artist at the height of his powers. Every detail is right. From Jesus’ tender pose to the angels’ tiaras.

Schilderij Madonna bij de fontein van Jan van Eyck
Madonna at the Fountain Jan van Eyck

The panel is packed with details for the viewer to discover. Did you notice the reflections of a window between the water-spouting dragons? And can you identify all the flowers? Besides the rose bushes behind the Madonna there are strawberry flowers, lily of the valley, irises, violets and peonies. And there are more flowers and animals too worked into the red fabric behind Mary. Can you recognize them as well? The birds, rams, hares and felines? Even the cloth in which Jesus is wrapped is decorated.


No wonder that this little miracle panel is an honoured guest right now at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. During this exhibition, you also get to admire the back of the painting. Because Van Eyck decorated that with the illusion of texture too.


Als Ich Can

Until January 2020

Kunsthistorisches Museum