The Leuven Hundreds

Portraits of a city's people, today

We’ve joined forces with Leuven to highlight 100 local people, places and projects that contribute towards making the city what it is today. From artists and architects to producers and professors, these are the driving forces powering Leuven forward one ingenious initiative at a time.

Barbara Baert

Barbara Baert

Professor of History of Art, KU Leuven (1967)

Can you describe what you do?

I’m Professor of History of Art at KU Leuven. My expertise is mainly situated in Medieval Art, with interests in considering the iconological approach to the visual medium – the contexts and traditions in which artistic expressions emerge. I like to address this visual medium with both general and specific questions, to unfold its interaction with the humankind as such: its desires, fears, and longings. For me, the history of art is all about awakening an object and making it aware of its inner senses; in respect to its past, present and future. Overall, my academic base here in Leuven provides me with the opportunities and freedom to further develop my scientific approaches; as was made evident last year, when I was honoured with the prestigious national science award, the Francqui Prize.

How do you perceive Leuven?

My constant interactions with this vivid student town always keeps me alert, allowing me to express myself to the fullest. I’m able to recognize Leuven’s swift dynamics in its ever-renewing populations. Indeed, the interactions between M-Museum, the University and the new stakeholders in the Vaartkom neighbourhood stimulate me to integrate my academic work into the melting pot of the cultural fields found here.

What would you say is Leuven’s main appeal as a city? What gives it its edge?

Leuven has always held a particular joy for any possibilities, without being blasé. It has a no-nonsense mentality without being hesitant or reluctant towards new ideas and creativities.

Leuven’s definitely not had any narrowing impact on me – on the contrary, it invites me to keep on emancipating my views on work and life.

How has Leuven contributed to making you who you are today? What role has the city played in shaping your outlook and career?

With its many top-notch libraries, discussion platforms and public debates, its outstanding rectors as well as international publishing houses, Leuven has definitely shaped my critical sense and provided me with the necessary freedom to develop my own methodologies and scientific personality. I would say that professionally speaking, Leuven kept the frontiers open for me, internationally as well as emotionally. Leuven’s definitely not had any narrowing impact on me – on the contrary, it invites me to keep on emancipating my views on work and life.

On a personal level, what would you like to see more of in the city? What could it do better?

As a mother of two sons, the city of Leuven has the right “shape”; and from a practical perspective it’s still “embraceable”. For one, I don’t drive, and instead walk a good few miles everyday: to my office at the Faculty of Arts, picking up my kids from school, going shopping, and such. One idea might be to develop even more car-free zones. Leuven has its fair share of traffic issues – especially in the city centre – but I know the City is working on it.

If you had to take out-of-towners to one place that truly symbolises the city, what would it be?

As an art historian, I would take them to M-Museum, to St. Peters’ Church to admire Dirk Bout’s Last Supper – still in situ since the 15th century – and afterwards I would have a meal enjoying the excellent local cuisine. I would follow this with a walk to enjoy the silence of the beautifully restored Groot Begijnhof beguinage. But Leuven also has plenty of interesting architecture, and let’s not forget the many alleyways, hidden parks and gardens either.