11 September 2014

tourist trap but, my my, what art!

Why oh why do people like to stay in Bruges? I got there and was instantly stuck in tourist-trap glue and glum. It seemed unavoidable but ....

There are some really fine paintings in Bruges, especially if you are fond of the Flemish primitives (15th century). The Death of the Virgin by Hugo van der Goes is one of my favorite paintings ever and it is at the Groeningemuseum. What's that? It's your favorite painting and you were remembering her gown as red. It's blue. The red one is by Caravaggio (and not in Bruges). I don't think any of my Stendhal sighs today were audible but the St Luke Drawing the Virgin by Rogier van der Weyden brought tears to my eyes. It's in the same room as the Hugo van der Goes and the Virgin and Child with Canon van der Paele by Jan van Eyck. Oh, and a Memling and a Bosch. There were quite a few people in the gallery but we were mostly respectful and gently moved around each other. When I looped around on my way out, I had the gallery to myself for a little while.

The Groeningemuseum has paintings all the way up to the 20th century. I found some more works by Gustave van de Woestyne, including a large Last Supper. The last gallery had a Magritte and a lot of Marcel Broodthaers.

Before I got to the Groeningemuseum, I stopped in at the Cathedral of Our Lady to see the Bruges Madonna by Michelangelo. If you saw the film Monuments Men or have read about the protection and movement of art works during World War II, you will remember how close this work came to disappearing. Well, it's there, it's beautiful, it's smallish but incredible.

After the Groeningemuseum, I went to the Memling Museum at Sint Janshospital where there's the incredible St John Altarpiece and several other Memlings including the St Ursula Shrine and a round Madonna and Child (the latter, courtesy of Christie's). Just wow! Upstairs, they had a Christian Boltanski installation of Les registres du Grand-Hornu, a memory-piece about the people who worked the Grand-Hornu mines. Very effective setting for an emotional piece.

On to the treasury at the Church of Our Savior (St Salvator) where they have the Martyrdom of St Hippolytus by Dirk Bouts and Hugo van der Goes. It's a gruesome scene -- St Hippolytus was stretched by horses attached to his limbs -- but a beautiful painting. I love the flattened space with the narrative circling around the saint's body almost like a zodiac. And St Hippolytus seems to be in some kind of sublime and serene ecstasy. What do you expect? He's a martyr.

After the St Salvator treasury, I went outside to sit and contemplate and see if there was anything else that needed to be done in Bruges. It was nearing 5 pm so I decided not to rush off to the Belfort tower for a 376-step climb even if the view would have been incredible. Once I'd relaxed, I could ignore the thousands of others milling about, the boats going by with a couple dozen tourists each, etc etc and just enjoy the pretty scene across the way:
Then off to the train station to come "home" to Ghent. I stopped at Hasta Mañana, hoping for a margarita but settled on a caipirinha which doesn't, alas, go too well with chips and salsa. And then back to the hotel. I didn't take many pictures today and you may have noticed that most of the works I mentioned are linked. And several of them are well enough known to even have a Wikipedia entry on the painting alone, not just as part of the artist's article.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What was the Rogier St Luke doing visiting Bruges? He lives in Boston. Extraordinary picture. (Oh, I see, one of the "notable copies.")