Lange Gasthuisstraat 33, Antwerp
The Maagdenhuis is a museum that is not really known in Antwerp. It is located on the Mechelseplein, in the Lange Gasthuisstraat. It is a good neighbourhood, with the other smaller museum, Mayer Van den Bergh, a little further up the street.
The permanent collection contains some gems, for example art works by Peter Paul Rubens, Jacques Jordaens and Antoon van Dyck. The collection has a broad variation: porridge bowls and furniture are also on display here.
The museum is housed in a beautiful building that used to serve as an orphanage for girls. The art collection on display here consists largely of donations and wills from wealthy benefactors to the Public center for Social Welfare (OCMW in Flanders). The orphanage was one of the institutions from which the OCMW originated.
From 1552 to 1882 orphaned girls or ‘maegdckens’ (little maiden) were taken care of in this building. They slept here and were educated. The intention was to train them to be a maid or chambermaid. By (the families of) people such as Jan Van der Meere and Gilbert van Schoonbeke, about 100 girls could be accommodated in this building.
In 1882 the orphanage moved to the Albert Grisarstraat. The office of the Civil Almshouses (a predecessor of the OCMW) then moved into this building. The Maagdenhuis Museum opened two years later. In the chapel it exhibited paintings and art objects.
At the opening of the Museum of Fine Arts, parts of the collection moved to the new building in the south of Antwerp. The chapel was no longer an exhibition space, but became an office. At the World Fair in 1930 they decided to reopen the Maagdenhuis Museum. Since then it has only expanded.
The Maagdenhuis stands out from the street because of its monumental facade. Thanks to donations from the family of real estate developer Gilbert van Schoonbeke (you can see his portrait and that of his wife above) a new facade was built in 1634 – 1636. The relief above the wooden gate is by Cornelis Floris de Vriendt, one of the architects of the Antwerp City Hall. The text recalls the founder of the orphanage: Jan van der Meere.
If you have looked closely at the gate, you will see the same figure again in the courtyard. The statue of the Wooden Clara first served as a stair pillar, but now stands free in the left gallery. It owes its fame to a story by Hendrik Conscience about an orphaned girl here in the Maagdenhuis.
Rubens and Schut
The first room you enter, near the reception desk, hangs a painting of ‘Our Lady’s Ascension’. It was painted by Cornelis Schut, a pupil of Pieter Paul Rubens. You may also know Cornelis Schut from another ‘Assumption of Mary’ in the cathedral, his version hangs above the altar in the dome.
A little further in the museum you will find the Rubens room. It is slightly smaller than the space with the same name in the Museum of Fine Arts. This space used to be part of the kitchen: the ‘Pronckceucken’ where the beautiful crockery was displayed. There is a study for ‘Christ, protector of the orphans’ by Rubens.
Masters in baroque
In the third room of the former kitchen hangs ‘The Washing and Anointing of the Body of Christ’ by Jacques Jordaens. A little further on hangs ‘Saint Jerome’, which was previously attributed to Antoon Van Dyck. After research by the University of Antwerp, they believe now it belongs to a follower or circle of Van Dyck.
Not only the big three of the Baroque are represented here, you will also discover 15th century masters, statues and clocks. So be sure to check it out …
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