If you only have time for one museum in Antwerp, make the Mayer van den Bergh the one you visit.
It was built specifically to house this collection; therefore, it displays it to the best possible advantage. Mayer Van den Bergh spent the last 10 years of his life collecting treasures, both art and applied arts. His taste changed over the years, and at the time of his sudden death in 1901, he was leaning more toward the late Gothic and early Renaissance works. What the final collection would have been, had he not died so young, we can only guess. Everything on display here was purchase by Mr. Van Den Bergh during his lifetime.
Normally there is no photography allowed, but I thought it was worth asking for permission. The receptionist was kind enough to contact the curator, and I was allowed free reign. I hope that the pictures can give just a small idea of the treasures to be seen here.
The museum is built to resemble a house, and you pass through the various rooms. The first rooms are quite dark, but the paintings are lit from above to highlight them. The first walls you see are made from gilt leather and are works of art themselves. Be sure to look at the beautifully carved room divider between rooms one and two.
I loved room two, which has a Ruben Satyr picture (the resemblance to Al is uncanny) and some lovely children’s portraits. One wall is dominated by a 15th-century fireplace, with a 14th-century virgin above the mantle.
Room four is brightly painted white and has some wonderful religious art, including a Rogier Van der Weyden of a sweet-faced Madonna and child with St. Catherine and St. Barbara. The fireplace in this room is carved wood, and on the mantle, is a carved figure of St. Martin, which is one of the finest examples of Brabant woodcarving in the world.
There are many splendid treasures upstairs, but you will have to climb quite a few stairs to see them. I particularly loved the carved statue of Jesus and St. John. It shows the Bible story of the Last Supper, when John rested his head on Jesus’ chest. It is such a warm rendering of their friendship.
Mad Meg by Pieter Bruegel the Elder is one of the treasures of this museum. It is a fascinating study, and the more you look at it, the more you see. It has a definite flavor of Hieronymus Bosch. Take your time, as it’s worth a second and even a third look.
Entrance to the museum is 8 € and I suggest you purchase the guide to the museum in English before you go through. There is so much to see here that you will welcome the help it can offer.