What if the painter Bruegel had had an Instagram account?
It takes a lot of time to create a painting, but a print is far less labour-intensive. Just think of prints as being snapshots from the 16th century. Well-to-do citizens of the time collected them and shared them with one another, just like we do nowadays on social media. If only Bruegel had had an Instagram account…
Before Bruegel decided to become an independent artist, he was employed as a printmaker by Hiëronymus Cock. At the time, Cock was running his own publishing house in Antwerp. It was called ‘In de vier winden’ and was one of the most influential publishing companies in Europe. Cock was a successful entrepreneur. He made sure that illustrators from his ‘stable’ earned a good reputation so that their prints would be highly sought after. It was here that Bruegel made a name for himself.
Finding out about Brussels via Bruegel’s first prints is a fun way to discover the city.
1. Ghoulish fun with Bruegel
Many of Bruegel’s prints contain sinister creatures that seem to have risen out of hell. For this style of drawing, Bruegel was very much inspired by Jeroen Bosch.
Prints had a social function at the time. The majority of people even kept them in folders and these types of prints were most probably used for some ghoulish fun together. Some prints had more of a moralising function. The purpose of showing means of torture on the prints was to warn those looking at them not to stray towards the path to evil.
In that context, the neighbourhood around the Law Courts of Brussels would make an interesting visit. This building opened its doors in 1883 and was designed by the Belgian architect and Freemason Joseph Poelaert.
The fact that Poelaert, in his time, was an eminent member of the Masonic Lodge gave rise to the strangest of tales as early as the planning stage. It is rumoured that there is a labyrinth incorporated in the foundations of the Law Courts, which is used as an inspirational maze for aspiring Freemasons. With enough imagination, visitors can see that the building itself is full of signs, symbols and references that point to freemasonry.
As the location for this impressive building, the Brussels' administration chose the former Galgenberg, a place where criminals were hanged in the Middle Ages. Part of the Marolles district – a large working-class neighbourhood in Brussels – also had to make way for this building; this can still be felt today. Take the lift down from the square in front of the Law Courts. At the top, you can be part of the stately ‘uptown’ with its stunning views across Brussels. At the bottom, the small streets of the working-class ‘downtown’ area, with its bric-a-brac shops and cosy restaurants, exudes a friendly vibe.
There are also opportunities for ghoulish fun outside of Brussels.
Visit the medieval Gravensteen Castle in Ghent with its terrifying torture chamber
The Torture Museum in Bruges with more than a hundred horrific instruments of torture.
The Antwerp canals (Ruien), where you can take an astonishing walk in the belly of the city.
2. Discover the Brussels comic strip scene
Bruegel inserted a lot of humour into his prints; they read just like comic strips. To this day, many Belgians continue to build on the foundation that he laid. In Belgium, you’ll find a ton of first-class cartoonists.
Brussels has always held the Belgian comic strip scene in high regard. Since the 1990s, characters from the world of comics have been given a prominent place in the Brussels' landscape. Almost 60 comic strip walls add colour to the centre of Brussels and Laken.
Follow this comic strip trail.
Or would you prefer to browse the comic stores? We recommend the following places:
- Brüsel: the biggest comic strip store in the Brussels Region, named after the graphic novel of the same name by François Schuiten and Benoît Peeters.
- La Maison de la Bande Dessinée: what is striking is that Kuifje comics are available here in various sizes and in more than fifty languages and dialects.
- Multi BD
- Forbidden Zone
3. Old musical instruments in a magnificent building
Each of Bruegel’s prints is a world of its own, full of an incredible amount of details and scenes hidden within scenes. Just look at how many prints feature hidden musicians or people who are performing.
Are you interested in old music? Then be sure to take the time to visit the Brussels Musical Instruments Museum. You’ll travel on a journey through the fascinating world of music and be able to learn about more than 1,200 musical instruments on display. Furthermore, it is housed in an architectural gem designed in the Art Nouveau style that formed part of the ‘Old England’ warehouses at the end of the 19th century.
4. Bruegel as a forerunner for Belgian surrealism
René Magritte is undoubtedly the best known Belgian surrealist. Nevertheless, he is not the only one to reach such artistic heights in Belgium. Just think of Marcel Broodthaers, Paul Delvaux and many others. Surrealism is even enjoying a comeback in post-modern art with contemporary masters such as Wim Delvoye and Jan Fabre, who are inspired by this genre. In a way, you could say that in his time, Bruegel planted the seed that later developed into surrealism.
If you would like to experience more surrealism in Brussels, visit:
Mu.ZEE in Ostend with the Ensor and Spillaert wing. Plan your visit.
Museum of Ixelles with a range of works from the 19th and 20th centuries. Plan your visit.
Bruegel had a clear fascination with boats. He drew quite a few splendid naval vessels with constantly changing clouds and waves. Bruegel lived through an era when new parts of the world were being discovered. This may well explain his fascination for travel and boats. In any case, you could regard Bruegel as the spiritual father of naval paintings.
If boats also appeal to you, you can indulge in your passion just outside of Brussels.
Visit the Mercator in Ostend.
Sail with the Flandria in Antwerp for an excursion on the Scheldt.
Take the helm of a boat and sail along the River Leie to the beautiful artists village of Sint-Martens-Latem.
6. Parks and gardens
All the landscapes that Bruegel painted and drew look highly realistic. Yet they are all compositions in which he used his masterful talent to effortlessly combine various elements. A lot of Bruegel’s impressions and ideas were gathered while travelling across the Alps to Italy. This is reflected in his landscapes. Nevertheless, you’ll also find typical Flemish scenes in the compositions of his prints.
We’d like to take you to the loveliest parks and gardens in Brussels and the surrounding area.
Egmont Park in the Zavel neighbourhood of Brussels: three discrete entrances ensure that the park retains its intimate and authentic character. The former park orangery has been converted into a restaurant with a delightful terrace.
Warande Park: known as the Royal Park for many years, it was the first public park in Brussels. This large quadrangular park with its many trees stretches out between the Federal Parliament and the Royal Palace.
The Royal Greenhouses in Laeken: the plant collections are a veritable feast for the senses and are the result of the prestigious reign of King Leopold II and the creativity of his architect Alphonse Balat. The plants are housed in a bright, light-filled environment of glass and steel.
Gaasbeek Castle: this walled French garden has a unique fruit tree collection that has been ranked among the world’s best for centuries.
The Botanic Garden Meise: under two miles from the Atomium in Brussels, the National Botanic Garden of Belgium is a botanic garden of world-class stature. Discover 18,000 plant species of which more than half grow in the Plant Palace, one of the biggest glasshouse complexes in Europe. Take a fascinating stroll through the 92-hectare historic domain that is filled with plant collections from all over the world.