A December 2002 trip
to Antwerp by kjlouden
Quote: Artists and architects thriving in Antwerp in the 15th and 16th centuries introduced the splendid style of the Italian Renaissance for public buildings. Our visit to Rubenshuis, Grote Markt, and the gothic Notre Dame enabled us to envision the flowering of the Renaissance Flemish style.
Halfway to Grote Markt (1/2 mile), a left on Wapper took us to RubensHuis, a major attraction with an audio tour of the Italianate gardens, home, studio, and sculpture museum. A wonderful 1.5 hours! We took forbidden photos of the inside before we were told not to, then bought the book with pictures and good descriptions for 3.50 euros, the best deal around.
Not yet full of Rubens, we visited Notre Dame, where three of his most noted masterpieces grace the already magnificent cathedral, the largest in Belgium and the
Netherlands. Finally full of Rubens, we enjoyed the lively Grote Markt and ran into the master again: a statue in the center. It was time for some discount shopping! We found it right there on the market square: watercolor prints of Steen Castle, Grote Markt, and Bruges, 3 euros each in the tobacco shop. As I said, Antwerp is a web of opposites--of Renaissance splendor and 20th-century bargains.
Anyone staying overnight to tour the old city might want to anchor at the Hilton right on the Grote Markt. The hotel chain agreed to keep the historic facade--how comical the
"Hilton" sign looks there! Inside, the look of Antwerp in a previous century persists.
An ice rink was being erected center square as I was leaving. I was sorry to miss the fun.
Our train from Brussels did not go to Central Station, but stopped at the other station in Antwerp, where we changed trains--easy as can be! Perhaps another train would have got us to the right stop for visiting the old city center. Next time, I'll pay more attention to the departures board in Brussels to see if any run to Antwerp stops at Central Station.
If you walk from the station to Grote Markt, do take time to shop or at least window-gaze. Styles and prices run the gamut of personalities and pocketbooks, and the selections, as well as the window treatments, will convince you that this European city caters to whimsy.
Attraction | "Discount Shopping Dutch-style: HEMA"
Inside the door, we crowded past a number of people who had checked out with huge bags--locals love this place! Everyone would! It’s the Dutch equivalent of Big Lots or Dollar General, only nicer, more orderly, with less "junk," and with an immaculate, cheery tiled cafeteria. Past inexpensive dishes, linens, candles, and chocolates--"Chocolates! I’ll stop on the way out!"--we made our way to the food counter. The large line there was a happy group, bobbing to the tune of "Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree" in English.
In a hurry to get to RubensHuis, which turned out to be just half a block down a nearby side street, we checked out with only coffee, now large and English- or American-style in the north of Belgium and only $1.35. At our table, we looked at hefty sandwich platters, soups, and desserts passing by and agreed this was the best place in Belgium or the Netherlands for ordinary, inexpensive, everyday meals, and resolved to enjoy HEMA cafeterias many times on our next trip.
Now to the chocolate racks! Every package was marked down 40% over already-low prices. Besides chocolates, we found little tarts and other baked items, six to a box, that looked--and tasted!--like honest bakery delights. We loaded up with goodies to take back to the hotel. Anyone staying in Belgium a while could have found everything needed to set up housekeeping.
At home again, I found the store's website on the third page of a Google search. The top of the browser read, "Living in the Netherlands or Moving to the Netherlands." I read, ". . . my basket is always filled with more items than I went out for." Why not? This is a discount shopper’s paradise.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 26, 2002
In the summer, the fountain is surrounded by a carpet of flowers, but in frigid December, the cobblestone glistened with a thin layer of frozen crystals. In this mirror, the Town Hall reflected its Renaissance facade of animated whimsy. Every set of windows was flanked by attached half-columns and the entire fourth-floor was faced with columned portico. Balustraded balconies, arched insets of statuary, and applied coats of arms decorated the extended center, topped with a stepped-up cupola protruding high above the concave roof. The building reminded me of Rubenshuis. (Built in 1565, it predated the master by 12 years, but he was impressed enough with the Italianate features to reproduce them in his own home.) Inside, one can view the magnificent domed, frescoed stairway that replaced the inner courtyard in 1880, as well as other rooms with remarkable decoration.
Features of the Town Hall are repeated in the guild houses, their stepped-up facades decorated with ornamental stone candles and statuary. As the sky darkened, their forms displayed Christmas lights, which reminded me to shop! A store right on the square had a few cheap prints and a very friendly owner, who spoke English. We lingered a while as he described all we had missed around this square full of surprises. Indeed, one day was not enough for Antwerp! Attractions down every side street could keep one busy a while.
Hilton Antwerp, there on the square with lively dining visible just inside the door, begged us to stay and see more tomorrow, and the ice rink looked inviting, too. Looking up, we saw the ever-present golden clock on the tower of the Cathedral insisting that we depart soon for Brussels. (See my journal: "Six Train Rides out from Brussels.")
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 27, 2002
Antwerp, Belgium 2000
Attraction | "Rubenshuis: Italy in Flanders"
The painter was rich and a man of his times, and so surrounded himself with artistic treasures attesting to the triumph of the human mind and spirit: busts of Seneca and other real persons, inscribed citations of the poet Juvenal, a collection of books, and others’ paintings of Flemish personages. But these testimonials to human greatness share spaces with gods and satyrs, revealing that 17th-century humanism was incomplete.
A visit is worthwhile even for one collection: statuary. Rubens owned over 90 pieces! Figures top the arched entrance to the courtyard and grace the garden pavilion, where Bacchus, Venus, and other gods of plenty oversee the harvest of fruit trees and grapevines. Inside, the statuary museum is a rotunda room Rubens patterned after the Roman Pantheon. Outside, insets in stone walls provide more displays. Information on many individual pieces are numbered on the audio tour, which is free with the entrance fee.
Every room is decorated with oils on canvas: in the dining room, Self-portrait of Rubens as diplomat; in the painter’s studio, the larger masterpieces, The Annunciation and Adam and Eve. The Gallery and rooms display works by others: Jan Brueghel’s Archdukes Albrecht in the park, van Leyden’s Christmas Night, and Jacob Jordaens’s Presentation in the Temple. We stopped a while in front of these and still finished the house in 1.5 hours.
Aside from the collections, the furniture is notable, though nothing but one chair belonged to Rubens. We were assured by guides (present to answer questions) that the furniture was similar to what Rubens owned, but were still struck by how much of history becomes uncertain so quickly. Antwerp in the painter’s day was famous for producing fine cabinetry, and many samples here are exquisite baroque presentations with inlaid ivory and gilt trimmings. Satisfied that the reconstructed scene was true to the master’s original surroundings, we envisioned him on the balcony over his studio, perhaps calling out some instruction to an understudy. If this were not true enough, we saw proof of his influence--balustraded balconies, rotunda roofs, inset statuary, and columned porticos--repeated throughout the old city center.
Antwerp, Belgium 2000
+ 32 3 201 15 77
Attraction | "Cathedral of Our Lady"
In our quest for the biggest and the best, we were determined to admire the beauty of the
structure and the overall effect of its decoration rather than gazing endlessly at the 4 Rubens masterpieces contained there. (We had just seen so many of these at RubensHuis, and we didn’t want them to overshadow our appreciation of the Cathedral.) This was not difficult. Endless detail of fine craftsmanship led me to exclaim to my friend: "It took as many people to build this as to create the internet!" A
harmonious coming-together of diverse talents always inspires me with awe!
My friend and I had to take turns with the camera. He kept zooming in on minute details
of craftsmanship; I, master designer by choice, admired the nave and chapel "scenes" here and there where "perfect beauty" could not be improved. For him, the meticulous carving of oak choir stalls and pulpit was intriguing; for me, the engineering of lightfall on the high altar was miraculous--and there was that Rubens!
The Assumption of Our Lady was the most colorful, most dramatic decoration about the scene. High in front of it, a beautiful
gold cross directed attention up to the light through the stained glass and finally to a
frescoed ceiling: a repetition of The Assumption theme by Cornelis Schut, a contemporary of Rubens. In his own house, Rubens’ work could not appear so magnificent, but here, it was surrounded by painstaking effect, more than any one master could reproduce at home, no matter how he tried. (See entry "Rubenshuis.")
Proceding now to the tomb of Jan Moretus and Martina Plantin, the Antwerp printers whose museum home I had not time to see, I would view Rubens’ The Resurrection of Christ, which the painter himself designated for these friends. Beautiful! Yes, the master’s huge book collection was partly ordered in their printing shop. Here in the Cathedral, the society of early 17th-Century Antwerp was preserved.
We still had to see The Raising of the Cross and The Descent from the Cross in the transepts left and right of the high altar. Again, honored positions in the lovely church presented the masterpieces to their best advantage.
It was dark when we exited the church. From the the market square, the Brabantine gothic form 120 meters high shined gold for all the community to find their way, as the masters had. (See photo, Grote Markt entry.)
Onze Lieve Vrouw Kathedraal
Antwerp, Belgium 2000
+32 3 213 99 40
West Virginia, United States