The Oldmasters Museum in Brussels, located in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium complex overlooking Place Royale, is a must-see. The museum is famous for its second-largest collection in the world of paintings by Pieter Bruegel, the Elder. However, the Oldmasters Museum will amaze you with the stunning colours and styles spanning 400 years of art history. Here, you will see masterpieces by Bosh, Rubens, Van Dyck and masters of the Flemish, Dutch, French and Italian schools.
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The Oldmasters Museum exhibit in Brussels
The Oldmasters Museum is part of the system of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, like the Magritte Museum and the Fin de Siècle Museum. They are all located in the same building in the centre of Brussels. Each of these museums specialises in a different type of art.
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The Oldmasters Museum specialises in Flemish painting. It houses many masterpieces you may have already seen in your art history books at school. Seeing them live with such vivid colours after centuries always surprises me.
Napoleon Bonaparte founded The Oldmasters Museum, called Musée Royal d’Art Ancien, in 1801, with paintings requisitioned from churches and monasteries. Over time, the collection was enriched by multiple acquisitions and donations. Today, most of the collection consists of paintings from the Southern Netherlands. Many paintings are by Rogier van der Weyden, Petrus Christus, Dirk Bouts, Hans Memling, Hieronymus Bosch, Lucas Cranach and Gerard David.
The Oldmasters Museum in Brussels houses an important collection, particularly that of Pieter Bruegel the Elder. This collection is the second-largest in the world. It includes well-known masterpieces like The Census of Bethlehem and The Fall of the Rebel Angels.
Although, the most memorable aspect of visiting the museum is the colourful and irreverent scenes depicted in many of the paintings on display. These scenes include kings feasting without restraint, drunk kings and flying fish, all providing a unique and entertaining experience spanning 400 years of art history.
The Palace of Fine Arts housing the Oldmasters Museum
The Oldmasters Museum is in the Palais des Beaux-Arts, designed by architect Alphonse Balat and funded by King Leopold II. Completed in 1887 and designed to showcase artistic works, this building has unique features. First, statues are an integral part of its identity and meaning.
The museum features several sculptures atop the four main pillars, including four allegorical figures representing Music, Architecture, Sculpture, and Painting. You can see these figures in the lobby shared with the other museum part of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium without entering the Oldmasters Museum.
Oldmasters Museum: information, opening hours and tickets
The Oldmasters Museum is part of the system of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium. It includes the Magritte Museum and the Musée Fin-de-Siècle Museum in Place Royale and two other smaller museums, the Meunier Museum and the Wiertz Museum, further away. You can, therefore, arrange to visit the Magritte and Fin de Siecle Museums together.
Before visiting the museum, I read online to prioritise the Rubens Room, which displays the Flemish master’s most famous paintings. Therefore, I must admit that it is the one that impressed me the least. The Oldmasters Museum has many masterpieces on display! Since the museum is vast and covers several centuries of art history, I recommend devoting at least half a day to it and adding the audio guide to your ticket.
How much are tickets for the Oldmasters Museum in Brussels
Tickets for the Oldmasters Museum are combined with those for the Fin de Siecle Museum and cost about €10, as does the Magritte Museum alone. There should also be a combined ticket, but if you want to visit all the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, you will save money by buying the Brussels City Card, the official tourist pass of the Belgian capital.
Audio guides are rented separately at the entrance of the Oldmasters Museum and cost €4. The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium offer free admission every first Wednesday of the month from 1:00 pm for the permanent collection only. The free admission does not apply to temporary exhibitions, so I recommend you see what’s on because, on days with free admission, you risk finding a lot of people and not seeing something that interests you.
Opening hours of the Oldmasters Museum in Brussels
The Oldmasters Museum is open from Tuesday to Friday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. On weekends, opening and closing time is increased by one hour, from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm. The ticket office closes half an hour earlier, so buying tickets online is always advisable.
How to get to the Oldmasters Museum in Brussels
The Oldmasters Museum is also located near the Place Royale/Koningsplein, as are the leading museums of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium. Once you arrive in the area, you will see clear signs for the entrances to the museums.
Rue de la Régence, 3
Where to stay in Brussels
Brussels offers a variety of accommodation options. If you’re looking for a hotel in the city centre, I recommend the Pillows City Hotel Brussels Centre. It is just 100 metres from Brussels Central Station and a 5-minute walk from Grand Place and the Manneken Pis Statue. For a charming and authentic experience, you can stay at the Happy Guesthouse in a typical townhouse with an Art Nouveau façade. They serve a delicious homemade breakfast made with Belgian products. In the European Quarter, Ambiorix Residence is a great option. They offer rooms with private bathrooms, a shared kitchen, and a lounge area.
I was pleasantly surprised by the Old Masters Museum in Brussels. I did not expect to be surrounded by so many masterpieces. The museum is quite large, so one visit may not be enough to see everything. If you plan to visit Brussels, I highly recommend adding the Old Masters Museum to your list of must-see places. It is definitely worth a visit. Feel free to share your experience in the comments if you have already visited the museum or are willing to see it.