During the 15th century, Bruges is known as a centre of art and culture far beyond its borders. There are two reasons for this: the prosperity of the city’s inhabitants and the good taste of its rulers, the dukes of Burgundy.
Originally, the dukes’ power base was in Dijon, but under Philip the Fair (1396-1467) the centre of gravity shifts to the Low Countries. Philip spends a lot of time in Bruges, where he lavishly places orders and commissions. Churches, cloisters, the city authorities, artisans, and wealthy individuals: all follow the Duke's example. Bruges attracts artists in their droves.
The refined style in which they work is known as the 'International Gothic' style. It emerged in France, but artists from the North add a breathtaking realism to it.
This is the young Charles V, born in 1500. Charles is named after his great-grandfather, the Burgundian Duke Charles the Bold. Here he must be about twenty years old. Note the collar of the Order of the Golden Fleece, which we also saw around the neck of Louis de Gruuthuse.
Five years earlier, on 18 April 1515, 'Charles of Habsburg' as he was called, made his Joyous Entry through the streets of Bruges. It was a spectacular affair with re-enacted scenes, temporary constructions and much revelry. On this occasion, the city called on the young monarch to help it, on its path towards a new heyday.
In the Burgundian Period, people loved organising spectacles and other, more lasting displays of pomp. The court, city council, wealthy associations such as the guilds and townsmen all got involved. There are examples in this room, including the stained-glass windows from the chapel of the Bruges painters and stained-glass artists in Zilverstraat, and the statue of Saint Michael, which was made for the swordsmen's guild of the Hallebardiers.
Powerful individuals had their portraits and statues produced by the very best painters and sculptors, and formal portraits were subsequently distributed. This bust of Charles V is a good illustration. There are several copies of this bust, in different cities, all slightly different. The original may have been designed by the German artist Conrad Meit. Meit, who was based in Mechelen, was a court artist for Charles' aunt and governess, Margaret of Austria.
The Bruges version has been restored several times. The terracotta head is the only remaining 16th-century piece. When the Archaeological Society of Bruges received the statue in 1882, everyone thought it represented the Burgundian Duke Philip the Fair. But he was Charles' father.
These two stained-glass windows come from a lost chapel on Noordzandstraat. It belonged to the craft guild of painters, stained-glass artists and saddle-makers, and was decorated with the most beautiful pieces. The Burgundian dukes also enjoyed using the chapel, not least because their residence, the Prinsenhof, was close by.