February 4, 2018
This weekend the Gruuthuse museum (or palace), exceptionally opened its doors for the public after 3 years of total renovation. The work is not completely finished yet. We will have to wait until the spring of 2019 to visit the museum that will tell the history of Bruges over a period of 500 years, from the medieval period up to today.
Today the focus was on the building itself. Visitors could wander through the different rooms and see the results of the renovations up close. They built a new roof, insulated the building, restored all the woodwork and windows, refreshed all the painted decoration. At the start of the 15th century, the Gruuthuse family converted the warehouse where they stored the ‘gruut’, into a luxurious inner city palace. The family built their fortune on the monopoly they held on the sales of ‘gruut’, a herb mixture used for brewing beer. The owner Lodewijk van Gruuthuse, who moved in the circles of the dukes of Burgundy, built a praying chapel that connects the palace with the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk (Church of Our Lady). The small chapel is one of the rooms that speaks to everyone’s fantasy. From the chapel you look straight into the heart of the beautiful church down below. In 1596, the house is bought by king Philip II of Spain and in 1623 given to Wenceslas Cobergher to house the Bruges mount of piety, a kind of pawnshop where one could get a credit or loan. The city of Bruges buys the house in 1875, and architect Louis Delancenserie renovates the palace using authentic neogothic elements bringing it back to its medieval splendour that has been preserved up to today.
Some fascinating details are for instance the smallest gothic window in Bruges, which you can spot when standing on the romantic Bonifacius bridge. It is said that the owners used the small window to see who arrived by boat on the canal below. The stain glass windows of the palace have a different design in every room of the palace, a way to show their wealth.
In 1902 the museum opens its doors exhibiting a collection owned by the Archeological Society of Bruges. This club or society collects art, architectural fragments and archeological artefacts. They can convince the city of Bruges to buy the Gruuthuse palace to exhibit their collection. They eventually donate their collection to the city in 1955. The collection now counts more than 20.000 pieces.
The Gruuthuse museum wants to draw on the past, and will put the original collection in dialogue with paintings, manuscripts and miniatures from other heritage collections to document the last 500 years of Bruges history. The ground floor will be dedicated to the 15th and 16th century, the first floor to the 17th and 18th century and the 19th century will be located on the second floor. The reopened Delancenserie attic with its beautifully painted wooden structure will be dedicated to present day Bruges.
‘Plus est en vous’ ‘There is more in you’ was Lodewijk van Gruuthuse’s motto in life. And it will also be the motto of the new museum. The museum wants to show the added value of its pieces by telling the many stories behind them and thus showing more than the pure aesthetic value of art.
Part of the Gruuthuse collection can now be seen in the Arentshuis. The exhibition ‘Gruuthuse in gallant company. Life and culture in 18th century Bruges’, runs until August 26, 2018. The exposition reflects different aspects of the wealthy 18th century residents living in the Gruuthuse and the Arentshuis: a little bit of music, exquisite lace on their sleeves, a pinch of snuff from an exotic tobacco box, a collection of coral and shells, silver, tin, mother of pearl,… Welcome to the extravagant society of the Bruges elite! The exhibition shows how rich and diverse the Gruuthuse collection is.