First summer course on Flemish art comes to Flanders


A handful of research institutions and museums have partnered to organised the first-ever English-language summer course on Flemish art in Flanders

First course on Jan Van Eyck

Studying Flemish art in Flanders has many advantages. You can see the landscapes and architecture that inspired paintings, visit churches and other buildings for which art was commissioned and delve into historical archives. “It’s a richness that we sometimes forget we have,” says Vanessa Paumen, co-ordinator of the Flemish Research Centre for the Arts in the Burgundian Netherlands, located in Bruges.

Giving more young scholars from around the world this experience of working close to the source of Flemish art is the aim of a new academic summer course. Conducted in English, it will run for the first time in June of 2015 and focus on Jan Van Eyck. Applications are due in October of this year.

The course is an initiative of the Flemish Art Collection, the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp, the Groeninge Museum in Bruges, the universities of Ghent and Leuven, the Rubenianum and the Flemish Research Centre. This is the first time they are collaborating in such a strategic way. “We would like to put ourselves on the academic map,” Paumen explains.

Each year the course will focus on a different period in Flemish art history, its importance reflected in the region’s collections: the 16th century of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, the 17th century of Peter Paul Rubens and possibly the 19th century, with a figure such as James Ensor. 

Experiencing the spaces

Beginning with the 15th century and Van Eyck makes sense chronologically but also takes advantage of the ongoing restoration of his Ghent Altarpiece. Participants will be able to talk with restorers about the discoveries they have made and get a feel for the context in which the altarpiece was created. 

“What is important about being in cities where Van Eyck and his contemporaries worked is that you can still go and search for where the paintings were and where they functioned,” says Anne van Oosterwijk, assistant curator at the Groeninge Museum. “That is something you simply can’t do by reading a book. You have to experience the spaces.”

We would like to put ourselves on the academic map

- Co-ordinator Vanessa Paumen

The course will last 10 days, with the 18 participants staying in Bruges, Ghent and Brussels. As well as lectures and visits to art collections, archives and historic locations in the three cities, there will be excursions to sites such as the Sint-Katharina church in Hoogstraten and the Sint-Jans church in Mechelen, which provide important period detail. There will also be a trip to the archives and city museum in Lille.

Participants are expected to have a Master’s degree in art history, history or a related subject and to have a commitment to Netherlandish art from the period. They might have embarked on a PhD, for example, or be building a career as a curator.

As well as introducing them to the resources Flanders has to offer, the aim is to feed their enthusiasm for the subject. “Maybe someone will say: ‘A work I saw on this course or an idea that came up is now very important for my further research,’” says Paumen. “And if one of these 25-year-olds becomes a major professor in the field, that’s something we want to be part of.”

Photo: researchers at the Groeninge Museum in Bruges examine paintings using infrared reflectography

Photo by Anne van Oosterwijk

A handful of research institutions and museums have partnered to organised the first-ever English-language summer course on Flemish art in Flanders.

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