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The KBR museum: discovering a treasure hidden for 600 years


16/09/2020

General view of the second floor at the KBR museum Ⓒ KBR

On 18 September 2020, the KBR museum will open its doors, inviting the public to discover a national treasure hidden for 600 years: the Library of the Dukes of Burgundy and its fabulous collection of 15th century manuscripts. With the opening of this new museum, KBR, the National Library, is helping to revive our cultural life and establishing itself as a major cultural centre in Brussels.

This exceptional collection, which brings together nearly a third of the 900 volumes of the library created by the Duke of Burgundy Philip the Good.
 

A rich patron of the arts, this ambitious prince (founder of the Order of the Golden Fleece) was the driving force behind the Golden Age in the southern Netherlands. He was a bibliophile who built up a collection of books renowned throughout the West during his lifetime. This collection encompassed all fields of thought and included the great authors of antiquity, such as Xenophon and Livy, as well as medieval texts - chansons de geste, poems by Christine de Pizan etc. Attracting the best artists of his time, such as Rogier van der Weyden, to his court in Brussels, Philip the Good also commissioned them to produce books richly illustrated with illuminations. These are of such high quality that the curators of the KBR museum state that "the most beautiful paintings of the Middle Ages are in books".

This formidable collection, whose highlights include the famous Chronicles of Hainaut and the Chronicles and Conquests of Charlemagne, has only been available to researchers until now. KBR has decided to make it accessible to the general public and to tell the story of these books and the period in which they were created, in five languages (French, Dutch, English, German and Spanish) and with three visit profiles ("Discovery", "In-depth" and "Children's").
 
Jean Wauquelin, Chroniques de Hainaut. Pays-Bas méridionaux, 1447-1468. ms. 9242, fol. 1r Ⓒ KBR

In a scenic arrangement that meets the highest museum standards, the KBR museum shows why you should watch out for rabbits, that the Middle Ages are to die of laughter, that pink elephants were spotted in Brussels and that history books do not always tell the (whole) truth.
After a general introduction in the Nassau Chapel, the only remnant of the palace of the same name and now incorporated into the modernist KBR building, the visit continues on the upper floor, where 160 items - manuscripts, prints, altarpieces, weapons, etc. - are displayed in individual cases. For conservation reasons, the manuscripts are changed three times a year, meaning that repeat visitors will discover different manuscripts each time. Particularly as the KBR museum also exhibits period works and objects entrusted to it by other Belgian museums and collections (e.g. Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Royal Museums of Art and History of Belgium, Groeninge Museum of Bruges, City of Brussels). Several themed rooms offer audiovisual immersions that plunge visitors into the heart of the 15th century, into the world of manuscripts and the art of book illumination, meeting the men and women who wrote, copied, decorated or read these works.

The opening of the KBR museum is part of KBR's new strategy: the institution not only wants to preserve our cultural heritage, as is reflected in its slogan "Where time is treasured", but also intends to open up to the widest possible public, both online and on site. KBR is therefore becoming a real "cultural hub" in the heart of Brussels, offering, in addition to reading rooms and conference rooms, a restaurant and gardens with free access.

The creation of the new museum was accompanied by major infrastructure works to improve the accessibility of the KBR building (including the installation of several lifts and ramps). Lastly, the former palace of Charles of Lorraine, which is also an integral part of the building, has been fitted out to host temporary exhibitions.
 
Practical information
Due to the health measures related to the COVID-19 crisis, no more than 50 visitors per hour will be admitted to the 1,500 m2 museum space. This means that they will enjoy the perfect conditions for discovering KBR's treasures.
Location: Mont des Arts 28, Brussels (metro "Gare Centrale", tram/bus stop "Royale")
Opening hours: from 18.09.20, Tuesday to Sunday: 10.00 am - 6.00 pm
Admission: €11 (reduced rate: €8; free for certain categories of visitors)
Website: www.kbr.be/museum