Our visit in Antwerp began with several hours in the newly-reopened Vleeshuis Museum, where we had arranged to be able to play the Dulcken 18th century harpsichord on display there. It was a fabulous instrument; Dongsok, Geert & I all had some time with it, though I regretted that I had not been able to bring yet more music in order to have some 18th-century harpsichord pieces with me. The museum was not crowded and after playing for about an hour, the director asked if we wanted to see "other instruments in the attic". Sure! We were escorted up to the top floor of the Vleeshuis – and this being an ancient building, just seeing the old rafters and brickwork of some 500 years ago was fascinating in itself – where we found shelving with wind instruments, some random keyboard instruments, pictures not selected for display, all kinds of items. We roamed around the entire space, feeling incredibly privileged to really see everything. Many interesting wind instruments, as well as the original bottom of the Dulcken (replaced in a restoration some years ago, but fortunately saved) where we got a close look at the maker’s marks.
We also visited the Cathedral, with its Rubens exhibit - Dongsok claiming he dislikes Rubens, but we dragged him in kicking and screaming anyways. He liked the Marten de Vos painting for the altar of the chapel of the Guild of Saint Luke’s, the painter’s guild, the best –a painting of Saint Luke painting a portrait of the Virgin and Child. Much of the art on display had been lost to other countries through later wars, but had been reassembled in the Cathedral for this special exhibit.
We spent the entire afternoon in the Museum Plantin-Moretus, one of the best exhibits we saw our entire trip. The museum is the entire house & bookprinting workshop of the Plantin-Moretus family, preserved in whole since the beginning of the business in the early 1500s. Do not miss this museum if you go to Antwerp – they still have the original typefaces, printing machines, and of course many original books from the beginning of bookprinting. It was truly fascinating to see evidence of the proofreading and corrections that were an integral part of the process (being someone who looks frequently at facsimiles of old music prints, and having to determine if a typo was possibly made). How amazing to realize that in the 1500s, Bibles were printed there in five languages: Hebrew, Latin, Greek, Aramaic, and Syriac.(And one of Plantin’s daughters was the proofreader for Hebrew). Three hours was not enough to really see everything on offer there.
Dinner was Belgian food outdoors on the square in front of the Cathedral. I felt it was obligatory to have Belgian mussels, which I remembered from my trip to Bruges in 1979. I was not disappointed!