Crossroads of history and friendship
Few days ago I attended a meeting in Brussels and with this occasion I had the time to visit a bit more the city too. The weather was not the friendliest one, so together with Andreea, my friend from Amsterdam that came to see me in Belgium, we decided to try the Art and History Museum. Now I’m going to go deeper in the museum’s exhibits rather than the reunion with my friend.
To begin with I must tell you that this place is huge. You will definitely need to put aside half a day to see everything in details. The building itself has interesting combinations of architectural styles and you can see Gothic arches mixed with modern glass or mosaics on the floor.
The permanent exhibitions have a large category of areas of interest starting with the Belgium national archaeology (prehistory, Gallo-Roman Belgium and Merovingian civilisation), the classical antiquity (Middle East, Egypt, Greece, Rome, Byzantine and Oriental Christian arts), Non-European civilisations (Islamic art, Asia, Polynesia and Micronesia, America) and European decorative arts (the treasure room and Mosan art, from the Gothic period to the Baroque one, from Baroque to the 20th Century, and other rooms by subject like copperware, glassware, stained glass, tinware, precision instruments, ceramics, textile and costumes, cinematic and photographic devices.
Indeed it contains more or less the same type of objects you can find anywhere in the big museums with international coverage. I must say that what I enjoyed the most was the Belgium historical part, especially the wood sculpting art. Despite being the majority of the works pieces of altar of churches, getting close to observe the details you get to understand why Belgium was an important cultural centre of Europe even back then.
The main reason why we chose this particular museum was for the temporary exhibition of “Crossroads”. The exhibition is divided in 6 areas, each with its specific colour. That also made it easier to go from one place to another by following the paths on the floor. The areas are Rome, always Rome (all roads lead here), Faith (faith makes things possible), Warfare (all is fair in love and war), In Memoriam (until death do us apart), Connectivity (we keep in touch), Knowledge (knowledge is power).
Along the travel you are invited to read, observe, but also play. This is perhaps the best part of a experience in a museum which I’d like to see more often wherever I go: play to learn!
The tour starts with a warm welcome to a Merovingian house, in the typical Roman stone architecture, from wood, wattle and daub, and reed or straw roofed. Very dark and small rooms, the house develops around the fireplace, central piece just as the human heart.
Moving on, it is time to discover different types of populations of the Early Middle Ages. Who lived where according to the Romans? The Huns in Pannonia, the Easter Romans or Byzantines in Byzantium, the Goths on the coastal cities of the Black Sea and Mediterranean Sea, The Franks – Merovingians in Germania and Gaul, the Irish Celts in the Irish Island, the Slavs in Ukraine, Balkans up to the Baltic and Scandinavian territories, the Longobards moved to Pannonia ad Lower Austria, the Avars left Asia for the Carpathian Basin and Pannonia, the Persians and the Arabs in the Nearest, Egyptians in Egyptian peninsula, the Franks – Carolingians in the Pyrenees and Elbe region, while the Vikings set off from Scandinavia.
I hope I didn’t lose you on the way cause off we go to Rome where we find out more about the Roman fashion, ivory carving, mythology, art, ruling legacy, political program, pagan images and writings.
And this leads us to the next section about knowledge with new ceramics, medicine, mixed styles on a book cover, writings from Egypt, papyruses, parchment and ostraca, about laws, trading and importance in writing for ruling.
The next section talks about connectivity through symbols, religious beliefs, ideas as exchange of goods, gifts, payments and people. From North to South, from East to West, the artefacts were connecting different worlds and people, especially through the trading of luxury goods, money, exclusive jewellery, glass and their way on the silk road. An example of travelling by water is shown through a Viking ship and invites you to travel further to discover the next section.
The faith section shows artefacts and samples of the early Christian architecture, a synagogue in Syria, the worship of relics in the Middle Ages, Byzantine icons, the beginning of the Islamic Empire, the profession of faith and protection and pagan customs still in usage.
The identity part talks about the grave goods as the symbol of social identity, funerary stelae, jewellery and mummification processes.
“No peace without war” is the motto of the war and diplomacy section where we have displayed weapons, war equipment, war conquered treasures, allies and enemies. Speaking of diplomacy, the exhibition presents 6 persons that have influenced a lot the war-peace situation around Europe which ends the exhibition… and the article of today.
We were very few days before opening of a new exhibition about Rome, but we got a sneak peak of the huge city plan they prepared of the old city, which I hope to get to see it as it looks extremely detailed built.