Of the many world class museums treating a stuck-at-home public to virtual tours of their collections, none inspire the resolve for future travel as the Stay At Home Museum, an initiative of the Flanders tourism board.
Before the COVID-19 epidemic response demanded the temporary shuttering of all such attractions, the region was entering the final year of a 3-year festival celebrating such Flemish masters as Jan Van Eyck, Pieter Bruegel, and Peter Paul Rubens.
Its website appeals to young, hip visitors by matching interests with celebrity tour guides: Bacchus (as rendered by Rubens) for eating and drinking in an arty atmosphere and Rubens' Venus for culturally responsible shopping and diamond admiring.
Other enticing prospects we can’t take advantage of at present:
Our sadness at missing these cannot be chalked up to FOMO. Right now, the whole world is missing out.
So, consider the Stay At Home Museum a preview, something to help us enjoy our trips to the region all the more at some point in the future, by educating ourselves on the painters who made Flanders famous.
The series is also a treat for the Zoom weary. The expert guides aren’t facing their webcams at home, but rather using their high level access to lead us through the empty museums in which the exhibits are still installed.
No crowding in front of the most celebrated pieces...
No inane lunch-related chatter from tourists who aren’t into art as deeply as you are...
Above, Van Eyck expert Till-Holger Borchert, Director of Musea Bruges, orients us to the artist and his work, most notably the Ghent altarpiece, aka Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, a 12-panel polyptych that Van Eyck worked on with Hugo, the older brother who died 6 years before its completion.
Pay close attention to Adam and Eve’s body hair. Borchert certainly does.
He also sheds a lot of interesting light on the significance of materials, framing choices, and composition.
The restored altarpiece was slated to be reinstalled in its original home of Ghent’s Saint Bavo’s Cathedral, following the scheduled closing of Jan van Eyck: An Optical Revolution—April 30, 2020.
The Royal Museum of Fine Art's director Michel Draguet takes us on a French-speaking journey inside Bruegel’s painting, The Fall of the Rebel Angels.
Ben Van Beneden, the director of the Rubens House, invites us into Ruben’s “art gallery room”—something no self-respecting wealthy polyglot diplomat/aesthete who’s also a Baroque painter would do without, apparently.
The peek at Rubens' garden is nice too, especially for those of us with no private outdoor space of our own.
Jumping ahead to the Belgian avant-garde of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, curator Mieke Mels of Ostennd’s the Mu.ZEE spills the beans on why native son, James Ensor, shielded his 1888 masterpiece Christ's Entry into Brussels from the public view for 3 decades.
This episode has been translated into International Sign Language for deaf and hearing impaired viewers.
Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. It’s been so long since she visited Belgium, she can’t remember if her indiscretion in the Bruges youth hostel made it into her travel memoir, No Touch Monkey! And Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Late. Follow her @AyunHalliday.