Up-Close and Personal With the Art and Culture of Flanders

By Arundhati Bhand on Jan 11, 2018
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The essence of travel lies in the land’s art and culture...

One is often smitten by the unfamiliar lanes of a foreign land, the colours that it emanates and the vibe that it lives in. And while this modern air is exciting, what lies under it is truly magical. Hidden in the modern lanes of this land are age-old traditions, rituals, and artworks. One such place that boasts of being one of the best art and cultural hub of the world is Flanders.

“Flanders” ...a word that is considered to be synonymous to art by many, is actually, the world’s art capital. Making up almost all of the north of Belgium, this region flaunts art like no other destination. Swirling through the cities are the vibrant scenes created by the Masters, the notes of music which remind you of a simpler time and the aroma of warm chocolate and waffles that make this your new home. 

Image Source: Flickr.com

But before we set out on this virtual tour, let us take a look at the origin of Flanders. While the word “Flanders” technically means “Flemish Community”, this area encompasses everything from its history and legends to the culture and religion, to give “Flanders” a meaning that can rarely be contained by boundaries. While history has claimed this to be the land of the rich, it holds true even today, with it being one of the wealthiest parts in the continent.

To know more about the history of Flanders and Bruges, take a tour of the World War I Battlefield with us. Book your tour here!

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Adding immensely to the story of this land is its art. Whether it be in the form of a building, a painting, a collection of souvenirs or even the belongings of a famous artist, such artefacts are what make this tale interesting, amusing and vivid. Encompassing a total of seven regions, you will find each one telling a different tale, using unique methods and the most mesmerising artworks. Together, the art cities of Ghent, Antwerp, Brussels, Bruges, Mechelen, and Leuven make Flanders the most sophisticated art center in the world.

Read more on the art cities here

For anyone who is looking to understand this region, it is impossible to do so with just a trip. One must visit the museums and the ruins, the galleries and the parks, and the cafes and breweries. And amidst this diverse chaos, lies a pattern. A vague picture that when looked at closely, displays the nuances of every artist that was ever born here, but from afar, the vagueness defines this region to be exceptional and detailed. 

Home to world renowned artists, the art of illustration dates back to the 13th century. With tapestries woven to tell stories of the Lords, this region is known to be one of the oldest ones to experiment with this type of artform. 

The Era of the Flemish Masters (15th Century to 17th Century)

Image Source: Flickr.com

Which brings us to the famous Flemish Masters. Each born almost a century apart, Flemish art was honoured with an explorer every time. 

Jan van Eyck, the pioneer of oil colours changed the medium of painting and gave a whole new dimension to Northern Renaissance art in the early 1400s. One of the first artists to openly credit his own artworks, he gained the respect and love of art lovers from all over the world. Virgin and Child with Canon van der Paele and Portrait of a Man in a Red Turban are some of his most notable creations, with the latter often perceived as a self-portrait. Another painting which, astonishingly remains, to date, the painting that has been stolen maximum number of times, is the The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. One of the first artists to be born here to display such finesse and technique, he makes the first Flemish Master. 

An aficionado of sorts, Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1525-1530 – 9 September 1569) is a significant name that changed the course of Flemish Renaissance painting. Humour being his forte, he saw in a scene, what no one else could. His paintings depict wonderful, thought provoking stories of human nature. Landscape with the Fall of Icarus and The Triumph of Death are some of his best artworks, though The Blind Leading The Blind has also proved to be life changing for art enthusiasts from all over the world. Ahead of time even today, we are yet to catch up with his mysterious thoughts.

The most dramatic, and undoubtedly the most influential Flemish artist of his time, Peter Paul Rubens changed the face of Baroque art in the late 16th century. His art of capturing the tone, the sensuality and the emotion of the characters and the scene is yet to be challenged by someone of his stature. Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp is one site that is considered to be a shrine by art lovers as it houses the three most bewitching artworks of The Raising of the Cross, Assumption of the Virgin Mary and The Descent from the Cross. Amongst his other artworks, you will find Samson and Delilah to be most inspiring. 

Some More Illustrations...

Image Source: Flickr.com

With the Flemish Masters giving Flanders a culture that has made everyone an artist, one wonders what the future brought it. A contrast so pronounced, yet, it makes perfect sense that some of the best illustrations would come from this region. Time brought Flanders artists who created comics! While Edgar P. Jacobs created Blake and Mortimer, a comic that changed the path for European comics, the Flemish also have to their credit, some series which still entice adults and children from all over the world to grab a copy, like Tintin and Smurfs! 

Amongst these hues and tales are names of those who chose a different path and excelled there too. While René Magritte changed the views of people through his surreal paintings, Marcel Broodthaers had the power of words. Both influenced artists as well as innovators to think differently and embrace the unseen aspect of art. 

Moving Beyond Brushes, Into Plates and Stitches...

Image Source: Flickr.com

After having toured the art of illustration, let us take a step back and observe how this rich history has affected each and every aspect of this region. Right from clothing to their daily cooking, you will be surprised to find subtle innovation everywhere! For instance, the culture of handmade lace, and hand-cut diamonds has now evolved into a fashion industry! With each art city having its own mood, you will be fascinated by the crisp and elegant Antwerp, the exuberant and perky Brussels and one that finds beauty in the past, Ghent. 

Image Source: Flickr.com

And transcending beyond illustrations is Flanders’ art and culture in food. With every dish looking like a painting made perfectly, you will find yourself surrounded by a community that prizes in ninety-seven Michelin Star Restaurants. Also, home to the world’s biggest chocolate factories, Callebaut and Puratos, be rest assured that any toffee here is no less than a drop from heaven. 

With the history of beer brewing going back centuries, appreciating this brew in Flanders is a must! The best way to explore the city as well as the breweries would be to go for a beer tasting tour across Ghent.

Book a tour here and treat yourself to some foam and fun!

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So, step into a picture to walk along the narrow cobblestone lanes bordered with flowers, to smell the warm aroma of the freshly cooked waffles and feel the aura of art etched in the lives of everyone in Flanders. 

Journey through a vibrant land of hues, scents and stories.

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