Saturday, 25 August 2012

Bruges IV - a morning in Hospital!

Over the next days I discovered lots more in this beautiful city of Bruges. There was the stirring practice for an organ recital going on in the Cathedral. There were the piles of mussels being consumed in whichever cafe or restaurant you visited or passed by. And chips, chips, chips - the Belgians love 'em!
I decided to devote a rainy day that came along to the two main museums. St John's Hospital looked after the poor and sick of Bruges for about 700 or 800 years. Now it houses a museum showing you all about that history with clothes, household items and medical implements from down the ages. But then there is the hospital Chapel.
Hans Memling was German by birth but came to live in Bruges in its heyday - the 15th century. He painted several works for the hospital Chapel, and here they still are, plus a few others, beautifully displayed. I spent a long time looking at these colourful, gentle scenes. especially the central one sometimes called "The Mystical Marriage of St Catherine", but really a Madonna and Child surrounded by various saints, including both St Johns, the Baptist and the Apostle, the patrons of the Hospital (picture below). The detail is astounding, as it is on the nearby "Reliquary of St Ursula", often seen as Memling's masterpiece. Every character is a real individual that bears looking at. These paintings may not have the power of Michelangelo, the skill with colour of Titian etc, but in their own ways are real masterpieces, and treated as such in St John's. And being seen in the place for which they were painted only adds to their attraction. Wonderful.
After a quick lunch, and with the sky still decidedly grey, I headed to the close-by Groenegen Museum, a general art gallery. It also had a few Memlings, van Eycks, van der Weydens etc but the modern galleries, painted a neutral but I thought depressing grey, were not the same as the fascinating St John's Hospital of the morning. Luckily it is not a very big place, so I did the rounds and then meandered back via another cafe, to plan my trip out of Bruges the next day - to the larger but also famous city of Ghent. 

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