Friday, January 27, 2012

Printing and Painting – 21 January 2012

One of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Antwerp is the Plantin-Moretus Printing Museum. It is housed in the original printing works and residence of Mr Plantin, who began the business at the start of the printing revolution and two of the world's oldest printing presses are still in situ in the place where they were first used. The business was passed down through the family generations until it was turned into a museum and donated to the city in 1876.

Because nothing has ever moved out of these business premises and residence, the extensive archives are the most complete record of life and times and printing business history available. When one considers that a credit card receipt will have completely faded and disappeared in a few months these days, there is little chance of a similar historical paper trail being created these days.

An original Guttenberg Bible is in the collection along many other firsts and the walls of the residence are replete with paintings by Rubens on walls that are mainly covered in beautifully tooled gilded leather.

There are a number of libraries, the largest with the books arranged by size, rather than any logical method and the printing rooms are just the way they were when in use, the company simply walked away from the presses and racks of old type and the workshops where the type dies were made and the letters cast.

The second walk in our leaflet took us down to the old harbour where a brand new museum (opened 2011) now dominates the skyline. The Museum Aan de Stroom allows free access up the escalators which are on a different facing wall on each floor, all the way to the 10th floor roof which affords a wonderful panoramic view over the city, and probably as far as the Netherlands if you knew a suitable landmark. It is a stunning building with all the curtain wall glass being curved like waves rather than flat.

After admiring the view from here called in at the Port Authority building back at ground level for an entirely different view of the surroundings. On the floor is a large backlit aerial photograph of Antwerp and the surroundings up to and including the border with the Netherlands. It graphically shows just how large the port is and how large the petrochemical industry is here.

Back on the walk we came across Rockox Museum based in a ex-Mayor's residence and with a great selection of artworks including a Bruegel. The walk returned us to the square and we set off to find the Mayer van den Bergh Museum. This collection was along the same lines as the Wallace Collection in London where the collector simply acquired artworks, collectibles, interiors and so forth that he liked, not necessarily because they were by “big name” artists.

He died at only 43, so his mother built this house purely to display his collection. It is another feast of Dutch Masters and is famous for one particular Bruegel that looks more like a Bosch than a Brugel. The other Bruegels are simply wonderful and we could have happily spent much longer there but it was late in the afternoon and the museum was closing so it was time for us to find a meal and return to the hotel.

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