15 reasons to visit Brussels’ Art & History Museum

We distilled the centrally-located and often overlooked gem of an institution that is the Art & History Museum into 15 essential points, from its current, must-see exhibition on Victor Horta and Philippe Wolfers to its unique plaster-cast workshop.

1. Horta & Wolfers

The temporary exhibition dedicated to architect Victor Horta and jeweller Philippe Wolfers contains an extraordinary collection of unique, world-class and priceless art nouveau and art deco pieces designed specifically for Belgian nouveaux riches at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th century.

2. From Tiepolo to Richter: European dialogue

Another exhibition currently on show that presents over a hundred pieces of essential European works, from Spilliaert, Ensor and Jordaens to Dürer and Rodin. The chance to see some of the finest artworks to have been produced this side of the Atlantic. 

3. Source of inspiration

Proving that art and history aren’t dead and dusty subjects, but very much alive and a constant source of inspiration, the Art & History Museum – the largest in the country – is housed in the iconic and historically-significant building of the Parc du Cinquantenaire/Jubelpark.

4. Improve your knowledge

A visit to the Museum will invariably augment your dinner table conversation. Indeed, the institution is home to everything from pre-Columbian pottery and Gallo-Roman glasswork to Merovingian burial customs and mummification techniques. There’s even an authentic Easter Island statue.

5. Tour the world in a day

Get one up on Phileas Fogg and Passepartout by touring the world in just one day with the Museum’s globe-trotting collection. There’s an original North American totem, the possibility of exploring Asia’s many mythical mysteries or even a meditation session in store in its gallery dedicated to Islamic art.

6. Discover Belgium’s rich cultural past

From its precious 12th and 13th century enamels housed in a treasure room and the biggest names in Belgian Art Nouveau as well as art deco to a unique tapestry and reredos collection, the Museum provides a unique opportunity to discover Belgium’s history through its decorative arts.

7. Where Hergé drew his inspiration from

Unbeknown to most, Hergé’s The Broken Ear classic, and its Arumbaya fetish more specifically, were a direct inspiration from a Peruvian statue from the Museum’s very own collection. The pre-Colombian mummy Rascar Capac, too, came from a direct source of inspiration, as did the Shiva statue where Snowy was nearly sacrificed or even the Chinese alcove bed that Tintin took a rest on in The Blue Lotus.

8. Face the curse of the mummies

Brussels’ Art & History Museum houses one of the biggest Egyptian collections in Europe. Get into Indiana Jones mode and enter the Nakht tomb or even Neferirtenef’s mastaba whilst also trying your hand at deciphering The Book of the Dead hieroglyphics.

9. Go back in time to antique Rome

Giving visitors a chance to go back to antique Roman times, the Museum houses the famous replica model of the city during its imperial era. Walk along the Via Appia, visit Trajan’s thermal baths or pay tribute to the gods themselves in the Pantheon.

10. Get closer to the scandalous in Horta’s Human Passion Pavillion

A small, neo-classical edifice built in Cinquantenaire by Victor Horta, the Temple of Human Passions is home to artist Jef Lambeaux’s controversial œuvre by the same name. A must-see, open to the public on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sunday afternoons over the course of the summer.

11. Buy an artwork copy at the plaster-cast workshop

The Museum’s plaster-cast workshop is a truly fascinating place where ancient plaster techniques are used to make exact replica artworks dating back from prehistoric times right through to the 18th century. Your chance to get yourself a lifesize version of Michaelangelo’s David – space permitting of course.

12. Instant fame guaranteed

With its many fabulous backgrounds and settings, the Museum is sure to give your next selfie that extra bit of edge, with social media supremacy now only a click away.

13. Bring your +1 for a romantic stroll through the Musée du Cœur

Doctor Boyadjian was a reputed cardiologist that, over the years, accumulated an impressive collection of objects illustrating the heart’s symbolism in occidental culture, from jewellery and perfume bottles to St Valentine’s cards and tapestry moulds. In 1990, he donated his entire collection to the museum, who returned the favour by giving it its very own room.

14. Invite yourself to King Leopold the Third and Queen Astrid’s wedding

Or, at the very least, step into the Louise-Marie, a splendid carriage adorned with the Belgian state’s seal and which participated in the 1926 wedding. A little-known fact: a fascinating and secret collection of hippomobiles are housed in the Museum’s basement, and are available to visit upon request.

15. End your visit with a coffee or a picnic

The best way to round off a visit to the Museum is with a well-deserved bite at its Midi50 restaurant or, better yet, an impromptu picnic in Cinquantenaire’s sprawling grounds.

Horta & Wolfers runs until 30th December 2018.
From Tiepolo to Richter: European dialogue runs until 30th September 2018.