Van Eyck's "Virgin and Child with Canon van der Paele" is the centerpiece of the Historium, an attraction on the Markt. The Historium is a private venture that cost Euro 10 million and took seven years of planning to open in late 2012 with the aim of attracting 200,000 visitors a year.
Bruges – Been There

If you think time travel is impossible, come to Bruges

Photo by Kieran Meeke

Bruges – Been There If you think time travel is impossible, come to Bruges

To walk around Bruges is to see its history of Christian devotion fixed in paint and stone. You can’t understand the city without understanding its medieval origins. Fortunately, time travel is possible.

Kieran Meeke
Kieran Meeke Travel Writer

One of the world’s greatest surviving examples of religious art is The Virgin and Child with Canon van der Paele by Jan van Eyck in 1436. The original is in Bruges’ Groeningemuseum (in the city's Burg area) and it shows Van der Paele, the donor, in perpetual prayer. Every line on his face is captured and his humanity speaks to the observer.

It is extraordinary to realize that it is still on show in the very city it was first created for. That’s a rare thing for such a major work of art. To stand in front of it is to be transported back in time. Every line on Van der Paele’s face is captured and his humanity speaks to the observer.

As I study the painting, I see Van Eyck’s genius in other details such as the reflections in St George’s armor, the feathers of a green parrot held by the infant Jesus and a worn crease in an oriental carpet as it breaks over the stairs. The depiction of the various textiles and metals is an artistic tour de force.

Such is the importance of van Eyck’s painting to Bruges that a whole other “time travel” exhibition is devoted to it. The Historium on the Markt square takes me on a computer-enhanced tour through a set of rooms conjuring up life in medieval Bruges. It may not be for those who prefer their art in hushed, reverent surroundings but is a fun way to understand more about this and other paintings of the era as well as the city’s history.

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The St Elisabeth Church in the Begijnhof was built in 1245, then rebuilt after a fire in 1584, with the beguinage itself dating to 1230 and founded by Johanna of Constantinople, Countess of Flanders. Saint Elizabeth was a Hungarian princess who married at age 14 and was widowed at 20, then dedicated her life to helping the poor and sick until she died at the age of 24. Photo by Jurjen Drenth

Jurjen Drenth

Jurjen Drenth

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II

Aperture
ƒ/5.6
Exposure
1/45
ISO
1600
Focal
160 mm

The St Elisabeth Church in the Begijnhof was built in 1245, then rebuilt after a fire in 1584, with the beguinage itself dating to 1230 and founded by Johanna of Constantinople, Countess of Flanders. Saint Elizabeth was a Hungarian princess who married at age 14 and was widowed at 20, then dedicated her life to helping the poor and sick until she died at the age of 24.

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