The Middle Ages are the ultimate aesthetic reference point for the followers of neo-Gothic. Bruges workshops produce the most diverse objects in neo-Gothic style: prints, stained-glass windows, sculptures, and precious metal creations. The Catholic Church in the city of Bruges encourages this craftwork. Neo-Gothic is the visual translation of its social vision: the Catholic faith and the Church must play a key role in society.
Around 1850, several pioneers of the neo-Gothic movement were residing in Bruges: James Weale, Thomas Harper King, and Jean-Baptiste de Bethune. Their study of the Middle Ages not only generates theoretical knowledge, but also stylistic examples for the creators of neo-Gothic objects. And there is a great place to seek inspiration: the museum of the Oudheidkundig Genootschap (Archaeological Society), the precursor of the Gruuthusemuseum. Many neo-Gothic craftsmen and producers are members.
Stained-glass windows. Paintings and sculpture. Precious gold and silver artefacts, textiles, printed matter... The spirit of the neo-Gothic in Bruges prevails throughout the 19th century. In their workshops and studios artists and craftsmen return to examples from the Christian, Gothic Middle Ages, encouraged by the Catholic Church. This reflects demand from their Catholic customers.
Famous Bruges glaziers, makers of stained-glass windows, include father Henri and son Jules Dobbelaere. Here you can see a few neo-Gothic examples designed and produced in their workshop. Their production was enormous, especially in Jules' time: destined for churches and chapels in Bruges and abroad, all the way to America and the Far East. Neo-Gothic churches are examples of Gesamtkunstwerk: they form a single whole and stained-glass windows are an important component. Samuel Coucke and his workshop, whose design drawings are displayed here, was a competitor of Dobbelaere.
The foundations of all this neo-Gothic craftsmanship rested on knowledge, a great deal of knowledge about the Middle Ages. Members of the Archaeological Society of Bruges, among others, conduct research in archives, travel, build collections and start expanding this museum and its collection. Craftsman Henri Dobbelaere was a founding member of the society. The collected objects serve as study material, but also as stylistic examples for craftsmen. With their many thousands of products craftsmen disseminate the image of a society in which the Catholic faith and the Church play a key role.
Have you already had a look at the fireplace and the beams in this room, with Louis de Gruuthuse’s coat of arms, the collar of the Order of the Golden Fleece and the letters L and M of Louis and Margaretha? This is also the result of neo-Gothic restoration work by Louis Delacenserie. He too was inspired by the Middle Ages.
Grossé: when we talk about 19th-century religious embroidery in neo-Gothic style, this family's name springs to mind. The Grossé family from Ghent settle in Bruges in 1814. In 1845, they establish their firm, Manufacture de soieries et broderies Louis Grossé, near the episcopal palace and the cathedral. The workshop's reputation grows, at home and abroad.
The Grossé workshop produces embroidery for priests' garments and episcopal robes, as well as other textiles used during church services. However, the firm also receives orders from the fledgling Belgian army.
Gold embroidery had been a centuries-long tradition. Grossé and people in his circle derive inspiration from medieval sources and interpret them in neo-Gothic style. Grossé's work fits perfectly with the neo-Gothic movement that radically renews the Church and its liturgy, in neo-Medieval style. Like many makers and designers, Louis Grossé is an active member of the Archaeological Society of Bruges, which founded the Gruuthusemuseum.
The Grossé firm still exists, as does Slabbinck, another Bruges firm involved in this field.
It took hours of work to embroider these figures. They definitely deserve closer examination with your eyes and your fingers.
Can printed matter be neo-Gothic too? Yes, absolutely. Here you can see what it looks like. Lots of printed matter produced by Bruges presses during the 19th century is inspired by the neo-Gothic: small and large prints, books, deeds, calendars, certificates, prayer cards for funerals and so on.
The neo-Gothic style is a response to French cards and prints distributed en masse in Belgium. People considered them too romantic and sentimental, and overly superficial. In Germany, however, you did find some fine examples. The impetus originated from the ecclesiastical authorities. In Bruges the Heilige Beeldekensgilde (Holy Images Guild) promoted neo-Gothic printed matter. Members of the guild provide knowledge and prime examples.
Here you can see devotional images produced by two important Bruges printers of neo-Gothic printed matter: Petyt, later K. Van de Vyvere-Petyt, and the younger Catholic competitor Desclée De Brouwer, also known as the Société Saint Augustin. Both profit from the success of the neo-Gothic in Bruges and from the city's economic heyday. They continue to be important players until the First World War. For the Catholic Church, cards and prints are an important tool to spread the faith among all classes.