{Belgium} Museum Marathon Brussels

May 23, 2016


100 Museums Challenge: Museums No.53 – 66

1 day, 17 museums, around 20km and over 25,000 steps! That is how I chose to spend International Museum Day (18th May) last week. Sounds crazy? Well, maybe it was a little. But it was also heaps of fun. Two years ago, I organised a Museum Marathon around Berlin, rising to the challenge of London, who had held the inaugural Museum Marathon the year before in 2013. Since then, the question on every museogeek’s lips has been, where will the next Museum Marathon take place? The answer: Brussels!

100masters this way

Yes, I spent last week in Brussels, as you may already know if you follow me on Twitter or Instagram. To coincide with the launch of their new #100masters campaign, Brussels Museums Council invited 20 bloggers, journalists and museum aficionados from Belgium, Italy, Spain, Germany, England and the Netherlands to join them on a tour around 17 fascinating museums*, and to hear and learn about some of the #100masters highlights at each of them.

#100masters is a brilliant initiative, which unites museums across Belgium’s capital. In each of the participating museums, one or more masterpieces have been chosen from the permanent collections  to represent the diversity of the city’s cultural heritage. For 100 days (from 18th May until 27th August 2016), the 100 masterpieces will be “honoured through guided tours, family trails, speed dating and a host of other activities.” Even if you are not going to be in Brussels during this time, you can get to know the 100 masterpieces through the #100masters site, where you can ‘swipe’ and ‘like’ Tinder-style (or so I’m told, I’ve never used Tinder!) until you find your perfect match. The site also gives you more info on each object, as does the #100masters blog.


I documented our day by taking photographs at each of our stops, and wanted to finished by sharing some of these with you – I’ve had to be a bit selective, otherwise this blog post would end up ridiculously long, but I have uploaded *all* of my photos in to an album on my Museum Diary Facebook page, for you to browse at your leisure. Enjoy, and perhaps it will make you decide to visit Brussels. If you love museums, it’s definitely worth a trip!

Museum of the City of Brussels (#100museums No.53)

100masters museum of the city of brussels 01

We started our marathon at the Museum of the City of Brussels, where we were introduced to not one but two masterpieces. Firstly, this beautiful 16th century gilded altar. It’s still completely intact except for one small detail – at some point during its history, the Baby Jesus was stolen from the nativity scene! 

100masters museum of the city of brussels 02

Secondly, Mannekin-Pis, the infamous statue from a fountain in downtown Brussels – and possibly the best dressed statue in the world. Wonder at his huge wardrobe of over 900 costumes on display, or have a go at dressing him yourself. Then head out in to Brussels to see the real thing! As our guide at the museum said, “We don’t take life too seriously, but we do take Manneken-Pis very seriously!”


Belgian Comic Strip Center (#100museums No.54)

100masters comic strip center

At the Belgian Comic Strip Center, we were greeted by Lucky Luke, Asterix, and Tintin, but it was the Smurfs we had come to see! The invention of Franco-Belgian artist and writer Peyo (the pen name of Pierre Culliford), they made their debut as ‘Les Schtroumpfs in 1958, in the comic series ‘Johan et Pirlouit‘. The comic of their first appearance was the chosen masterpiece at this stop. Les Schtroumpfs proved so popular, that they later received their own spin off series.

Museum of the National Bank of Belgium (#100museums No.55)

100masters museum of the bank of belgium

The focus of our stop at the Museum of the National Bank of Belgium was this beautiful 16th century tapestry, a masterpiece made in Brussels as identified by the monogram of master weaver Jan de Buck. The two main figures were thought to be Emperor Charles V and his sister, Mary of Hungary, but apparently the discovery of a similar tapestry in Italy points to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba as their identities. One thing is certain, which is that Brussels itself features heavily in the woven scenery –  if you look closely, you can see Coudenberg Palace, Brussels City Hall and Brussels Cathedral in the background.

Royal Library of Belgium (#100museums No.56)

100masters royal library of belgium

The masterpiece we viewed at the Royal Library of Belgium, was the only known copy of a Dutch adaptation of a late 15th century saga. In the story of Mélusine, a king falls in love with a mysterious beautiful woman he meets in the forest. They marry, under the condition that he must not enter her bed chamber when she birthed or bathed her children. As to be expected, he breaks his promise and the woman leaves him, along with their three triplet daughters. When the daughters come of age, they discover the secret of their father’s broken promise and seek revenge. Alas, their mother is not impressed with their behaviour and punishes them, condemning Melusine, the first born, to spend every Saturday in the form of a serpent from the waist down. History repeats itself, when Melusine marries, under the condition that her husband never enter her bed chamber on a Saturday. You can guess what happens! Melusine initially forgives him, but when he later calls her ‘serpent’  during an argument, in front of their entire court, she leaves him forever…

Bozar, Centre for Fine Arts

100masters bozor centre for fine arts

Bozar, Centre for Fine Arts, is a place where art meets music, cinema, literature, theatre, architecture, and much more. The building itself is the masterpiece here, being the work of Belgian architect and designer Victor Horta (1861-1947).

Musical Instruments Museum (#100museums No.57)

100masters musical instruments museums

As a musician myself, the Musical Instruments Museum was one of my favourite stops of the Marathon. And as a saxophonist, I was particularly interested in the story of Belgian musician and inventor Adolphe Sax. Although the masterpiece we viewed was a trombone rather than a saxophone, who could fail to be excited by this beautiful instrument from 1876. A seven belled trombone! How simply marvellous and eccentric, and a stunning example of Sax’s craftsmanship. Unfortunately, the ergonomics of it were not as good as its looks, so it didn’t catch on.

Royal Museums of Fine Arts – Old Masters (#100museums No.58)

100masters old masters museum 01

Listed as one stop on our Museum Marathon route, the Royal Museum of Fine Arts was actually four museums in one building (in total there are six museums, two of them being at other locations), but since they are indeed separate entities and you need to buy a separate ticket for each – though a combi ticket is available – it seemed fair enough to count them individually. We started with the Old Masters Museum, where a Bruegel was our first masterpiece. The painting shows good and evil, order and chaos, the Old World and the New World. You know, the usual.

100masters old masters museum 02

The second masterpiece was Jacques-Louis David’s ‘Murder of Marat‘ from 1793. The painting shows the French Revolutionary leader lying dead in his bath on 13 July 1793 after his murder. Marat suffered from a skin condition that caused him to spend much of his time in his bathtub, where he was fatally stabbed, though David showed no signs of the skin problem in his painting.

Royal Museums of Fine Arts – Modern Museum

100masters modern museum

We briefly stopped at Jan Fabre‘s masterpiece, on our way from the Old Masters to the Fin-de-Siecle Museum. The blue in this massive photo installation was entirely coloured in by hand – with ballpoint pen!

Royal Museums of Fine Arts – Fin-de-Siecle Museum (#100museums No.59)

100masters fine de siecle museum

I have to admit, this masterpiece in the Fin-de-Siecle Museum was my least favourite of the day. It kind of gives me the creeps a little. But then, it is called The Strange Masks. Did you know that there is a song about James Ensor – the painting’s artist – by They Might Be Giants? You can hear it in my ‘Music to Visit Art Museums‘ playlist!

Royal Museums of Fine Arts – Magritte Museum (#100museums No.60)

100masters magritte museum

The last of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts for the day, and my favourite of the four, was the Magritte Museum. I actually went back two days later to have a more slow and thorough walk around. Magritte is probably best known for bowler hats, apples and pipes, but it was his painting ‘The Empire of Lights‘ that was the chosen masterpiece. A night time street beneath a day time sky. If I followed the story rightly (I admit, I was distracted a little by all the other awesome art around us), the original piece actually ended up at the Guggenheim in New York, but Magritte made another copy for his home turf, Belgium. But Magritte being Magritte, he added a puddle of water and the street lamp reflection in to this one. He also painted other versions of the same motif. According to our guide, there are lots of subtelties in the painting you can only see if you are standing in front of the real thing. Like the big rock in the foreground. What’s that? You can’t see it in my photo? I guess that proves his point.

Coudenberg (#100museums No.61)

100masters coudenberg

Coudenberg Palace, in its heyday, was one of the most beautiful palaces in Europe and one of the main residences of  Emperor Charles V.Until it burned down  in 1731! A few decades later, the ruins were pulled down and the area flattened to make way for new construction. All that remains today, are the underground ruins. Specifically the remains of the Aula Magna, or Great Hall, was the chosen masterpiece here.

Cinquantenaire Museum (#100museums No.62)

100masters cinquantenaire museums

The Cinquantenaire Museum is apparently the largest museum in Belgium and also one of the largest in Europe. However, we sadly only got to see a fraction of it. But the chosen masterpiece was one of my other favourites of the day. This little statue (or not so little, it stands over half a metre tall) is from the Chimu culture in Peru, who were conquered by the Inca around 1470. It also features in Hergé’s Tintin adventure ‘Broken Ear’ about  a statue made by the Arumbaya tribe. Apparently, Hergé never visited Peru himself, and got all his inspiration from the museum!


Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History (#100museums No.63)

100masters military history museum

I have a soft spot for aircraft museums, so I was delighted that our visit to the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History took us to their flight exhibition. If there ever was a beautiful old wooden plane, this is it! The Battaille is apparently the only triplane of its kind ever made in the early days of aviation – a gorgeous masterpiece by the young Belgian engineer César Bataille. Swoon.

Autoworld (#100museums No.64)

100masters autoworld

From planes we headed straight to automobiles, and #MuseumBoy’s car fanaticism must be rubbing off on me, because I could have spent the whole afternoon amongst these beautiful oldtimers. Produced by carmaker Verhaest from Deinze in 1929, I’d give anything to go for a spin in this Minerva, who was the chosen masterpiece we were introduced to. Incidentally, Minerva was also my #100masters ‘Tinder’ match!

Cauchie House

100masters cauchie house

Another incident of a building itself being the masterpiece, Cauchie House was built in 1905 by art nouveau architect, designer and artist Paul Cauchie, as a home for his family. Its facade is a remarkable example of sgraffiti – a new term I learned on the Marathon, which refers to a technique where plaster tinted in contrasting colours is applied in layers, and then parts of the upper layers are scratched away to reveal the contrasting colours below. Cauchie’s wife was an artist too, and the house’s facade was intended as an advertisement for their work. We couldn’t actually go inside, as it’s now privately owned.

 Museum of Natural Sciences (#100museums No.65)

100masters museum of natural sciences

Our penultimate stop, was at the Museum of Natural Sciences, home to the largest exhibition of dinosaurs in Europe! Here we met ‘Iggy‘, one of thirty relatively complete iguanodon skeletons discovered 322m underground in a Belgian coal mine at the end of the 19thcentury. An absolute ‘must see’ for any dinosaur fan!

Museum of Ixelles (#100museums No.66)

100masters museum of ixelles

And, finally, we finished our Museum Marathon at the Museum of Ixelles. Consisting of more than 10,000 works of art from the 17th to the 20th century, the Museum of Ixelles’ collections are particularly rich in works of Belgian art of the 19th to 21st centuries. The three ladies in Theo van Rysselberghe’s masterpiece were having tea in the garden – but we celebrated the end of the day with a well deserved glass of wine (or two) instead of tea.

Many thanks to Brussels Museum for organising such a fantastic day, and for inviting me to be part of it! And, of course, now the question on every museogeek’s lips will again be: where will the next Museum Marathon take place? Anyone willing to take up the challenge?

Disclaimer: I was invited by Brussels Museums to take part in this event, including my air fare and two nights accommodation. However, all opinions expressed here are my own. As anyone who has been reading this blog for a while will know – I don’t really need any external encouragement to enthuse about museums!

*Please note, that I did not count all the museums we stopped at on the marathon towards my #100museums challenge, as for a couple of them we either did not see any exhibits, did not go inside at all, or only briefly passed through, not stopping long enough to warrant being counted.

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4 Responses to “{Belgium} Museum Marathon Brussels”

  1. the Pigeon Pair and Me Says:

    What an incredible treat to be taken around all these museums! I know from our own London Museum Dash for Sport Relief back in March how exhausting it can be – but thrilling to have glimpses of all that artistic genius. I love the variety in the museums you’ve chosen to cover here, and the little stories about each place.



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