Fritz Mayer van den Berg had accumulated a fabulous collection of art treasures when he died in his forties at the beginning of the 20th century, and his mother had this house built in 16th-century style as a setting for the collection. The house itself would seem to justify a visit even if it were empty, with its beautifully carved woodwork and ornate fireplaces.
The main ground floor room was open and contained some early Flemish work. I forget the name of the artist, but one had learnt to paint eyes – very realistic, but it was somewhat off-putting when four paintings of different people were looking at me – all with identical eyes. The restorers did not want anyone going upstairs, but I had checked on one room before paying to go in, and they honoured this by escorting me in the lift. It was the room containing the picture by Pieter Brueghel the Elder of Dulle Griet [Mad Meg]. This picture on its own would have justified the full entrance fee to my mind, but then, I love Breughel’s paintings and I have not seen many of them. This is the painting of a horrifying, quite demented woman with all sorts of hell-based accompaniments.
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Todmorden, England, United Kingdom
September 26, 2003
From journal 'appy in Antwerp
June 20, 2003
It was built specifically to house this collection; therefore, it displays it to the best possible advantage. Mayer Van den Bergh spent the last 10 years of his life collecting treasures, both art and applied arts. His taste changed over the years, and at the time of his sudden death in 1901, he was leaning more toward the late Gothic and early Renaissance works. What the final collection would have been, had he not died so young, we can only guess. Everything on display here was purchase by Mr. Van Den Bergh during his lifetime.
Normally there is no photography allowed, but I thought it was worth asking for permission. The receptionist was kind enough to contact the curator, and I was allowed free reign. I hope that the pictures can give just a small idea of the treasures to be seen here.
The museum is built to resemble a house, and you pass through the various rooms. The first rooms are quite dark, but the paintings are lit from above to highlight them. The first walls you see are made from gilt leather and are works of art themselves. Be sure to look at the beautifully carved room divider between rooms one and two.
I loved room two, which has a Ruben Satyr picture (the resemblance to Al is uncanny) and some lovely children’s portraits. One wall is dominated by a 15th-century fireplace, with a 14th-century virgin above the mantle.
Room four is brightly painted white and has some wonderful religious art, including a Rogier Van der Weyden of a sweet-faced Madonna and child with St. Catherine and St. Barbara. The fireplace in this room is carved wood, and on the mantle, is a carved figure of St. Martin, which is one of the finest examples of Brabant woodcarving in the world.
There are many splendid treasures upstairs, but you will have to climb quite a few stairs to see them. I particularly loved the carved statue of Jesus and St. John. It shows the Bible story of the Last Supper, when John rested his head on Jesus’ chest. It is such a warm rendering of their friendship.
Mad Meg by Pieter Brueghel the Elder is one of the treasures of this museum. It is a fascinating study, and the more you look at it, the more you see. It has a definite flavor of Heronimous Bosch. Take your time, as it’s worth a second and even a third look.
Entrance to the museum is 2.50€, and I suggest you purchase the guide to the museum in English before you go through. There is so much to see here that you will welcome the help it can offer.
We easily walked here from the Plantin Moretus Museum.
From journal Antwerp-The Flemish Gem
June 3, 2003
From journal a week end in antwerp