In the summer of 2004 I have been to Bruges – and fell in love with it. It was rather work than anything else that brought me there. Back then I was still at university, studying Art History and struggling with it. Because Art History had not exactly turned out as I hoped it would. When I decided to study this subject I was very much influenced by my Art teacher at school. I never liked Art that much. It was funny and creative, sometimes (IF we had a good teacher), but not my favourite. That changed with my last teacher. He took us on journeys back in time. I will always remember that it was in that old classroom when I discovered Caspar David Friedrich and the Romantics. We visited the Impressionists, experienced Cubism, went along mountaineering with Cézanne and stopped by the city life during Biedermeier. Art History has always been that for me – travels back in time to get a feel of how life was back then. Today I often say that to me Art History is Psychology of the Past.
When I started university, it wasn’t that. Not at all. Yes, I learned a lot and I liked it, but it was all very much perfunctory. Because studying also means learning how to be a scientist in your field. So you have to develop skills. During my first three semesters, this was the main task. It was interesting, but not what I had wanted out of this subject. So I was seriously debating changing my major. I was majoring in two subjects -Art History and Geography. So I was very close to change my second major to my first – or change the whole thing and major only in Geography. But along came my fourth semester and with it a course about the Old Dutch Masters. I was assigned a paper on something called ‚Paragone‘. This is a term that describes a time when certain disciplines played out their rivalry. This happened mostly in Italy during the early Renaissance. And there it was obvious, as it was even written about. But there was some sort of Paragone in the north, too. At least, Art Historians were / are suspecting it. It was my task to find out more about it, present it to the class and write about it. At first I thought the topic was beyond me and rather boring. As it turned out, it became my ‚break-through‘. From then on I could point a finger on what I wanted to study in depth.
After the course was trough we had an excursion to Belgium to see the Dutch Masters. Apart from minor setbacks in the private aspects of my life (don’t ask, it was a lot of drama), this was a memorable trip. And Bruges was the most memorable of all. This site – Sint Jans Hospital – turned out to be a place that had spoken to me more than others. It was because of a painting that touched me. We went there for the works of Memling, but there was this painting of the hospital as it had been originally. If you like, take a look here. To this day I cannot say exactly why I found this so extraordinary. I have for a long time been interesting in health topics, old wisdom concerning herbs and monk healers. So maybe that’s why. However, as it turned out, this picture stuck with me until almost 15 years later. As you know, Bruges was on our way to Scotland and of course I wanted to stop there. The city has changed, though not in its architecture, of course. But it’s a lot more touristy and a lot more commercial than it was 14 years ago. Sint Jans has changed, also. There is a new museum in there now. If I ever go back without my dog, I will take a look.
Believe it or not, the Dutch Masters are still my favourites. And somehow, this photo now stands for what I love about being and Art Historian. So there you go:
Oh, by the way, this is the court of the building complex 😉