Bruges, Ghent and Brussels - Jan van Eyck and Netherlandish Painting

Prices from £1,550


11 Mar 2020 - 15 Mar 2020
Duration: 4 nights
Ref: 20FLAN
With: Dr Sophie Oosterwijk


Prices from £1,550
Single Supplement: £350
Deposit: £200

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During the late Middle Ages the trading towns of Flanders enjoyed a period of unprecedented prosperity, their wealth founded on a thriving textile industry and international commerce. Although from 1384 officially subject to the Dukes of Burgundy and from 1477 to the House of Habsburg, the Flemish urban communes proudly held their own, playing a pivotal role in Europe’s early modern economy. Their sophisticated cosmopolitan culture manifested itself in impressive civic and religious buildings and breathtakingly beautiful paintings, works of art rivalling those of the city states of Italy of the same period. Explore with us the history, art and architecture of the two great cities of Ghent and Bruges, the earliest showcases of commercial success, where Hubert and Jan van Eyck ‘invented’ a realistic style of painting. The year 2020 will see the completion of the restoration of their famous Mystic Lamb altarpiece in Ghent, which will be celebrated with a special exhibition. We will also pay homage to other great Netherlandish masters such as Rogier van der Weyden, Hugo van der Goes and Hans Memling, and visit a range of buildings from Gothic cathedrals and Renaissance town halls to the private residences of merchants, bankers and rulers.


“Flanders is one of Europe's richest treasure troves. When you walk the streets and alleys of Bruges and Ghent it is not hard to imagine what these towns looked like five centuries ago. This tour will offer an encounter with the famous Flemish painters of the Northern Renaissance as well as a culinary experience, for Belgium is also the country of chocolate, beer and wonderful food: a delight for all the senses!”

Sophie Oosterwijk is a Dutch mediaevalist and art historian. She has lectured at many institutions including Leicester, Manchester and St Andrews. She currently works freelance for the University of Cambridge, the RA, the Arts Society and other organisations. Sophie has published widely on art in the Netherlands.


Morning Eurostar from London St Pancras International to Lille. Continue by coach to Bruges and our four-star hotel in the city centre. Introductory walk through the picturesque cobbled lanes around the canals which link the numerous market squares, including the Burg Square. The double Basilica of the Holy Blood combines a largely Romanesque lower church with a neo-Gothic upper church. One of the earliest panel paintings to survive in Bruges, is the altarpiece of the Tanner’s guild (c.1410) displayed in the treasury of St Saviour’s Cathedral alongside a collection of Flemish paintings.


A full day on foot in Bruges. Morning visit to the Groeninge Museum for an encounter with Jan van Eyck’s wife, Margaret van Eyck, and a close-up inspection of his intricately detailed Madonna painted for the wealthy Bruges canon Joris van der Paele. Hans Memling’s Moreel Triptych was painted half a century later, as was Hugo van der Goes’ Death of the Virgin, one of this painter’s last works. Gerard David’s Judgement of Cambyses illustrates the introduction of classical subjects to Netherlandish art at the very end of the 15th century. After lunch we visit the mediaeval St John’s Hospital, now the Memling Museum, where we will be focusing on the work of Hans Memling, in particular his Shrine of St Ursula with its painstakingly detailed narrative panels of the life of the saint. Other highlights include Memling’s Diptych of Maarten van Nieuwenhove and the St John Triptych as well as exhibits relating to the history of this important hospital complex. There is also the opportunity to visit the Hospital’s historic pharmacy and herb garden.


All day excursion to the historic city of Ghent. The cathedral of St Bavo is home to one of the seminal pieces of Netherlandish paintings: the Ghent Altarpiece, Jan and Hubert van Eyck’s Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, with its unsurpassed wealth of realistic detail, from the two pious donor portraits to the jewel-bedecked robes of the saints and angels. The altarpiece has been the subject of a five-year-long restoration conducted by an international team of experts and the completion of this project is celebrated with a special once-in-a-lifetime exhibition ‘Van Eyck: an optical revolution’, at the Museum of Fine Arts. We begin our day at this exhibition that will reveal the work of van Eyck and the Burgundian court of the period. In the afternoon we continue to the Cathedral of St Bavo to see the church where the altarpiece will be returned in mid 2020. A walk through the centre of the city will take us to the stately merchants’ houses of Graslei and Korenlei along the ancient waterfront.


The Gruuthuse Museum is another Flemish treasure to have undergone extensive restoration and we will explore this Burgundian palace displaying a collection of artefacts including silver work, tapestries and lace. The palace was linked to Church of Our Lady, the belfry of which, at 122 metres, remains the tallest structure in the city and the second tallest brickwork tower in the world. Inside, the choir holds the tombs of Charles the Bold, the last Valois Duke of Burgundy, and his daughter, the duchess Mary, through whom Flanders passed to Maximilian I, her much-resented Habsburg husband. A further – unexpected – treasure is Michelangelo’s early Madonna and Child, created for a Bruges merchant in 1505. Bruges City Hall has been the centre of city government for over 6oo years and two fascinating 16th-century maps of Bruges are the centre of attention.


By coach to Brussels, where we shall be visiting the Old Masters Museum to study paintings from the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries, including a large collection of works by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. There will be some free time to explore Brussels or for an independent visit to the Magritte Museum or the Fin-de-Siècle Museum within the same complex before our departure for Brussels Midi station to catch a Eurostar train back to London St Pancras.


Please note that this tour involves a fair amount of walking across uneven ground. You must be fit and surefooted to make the most of this tour. If you would like to find out more about the physical ‘difficulty level’ of the tour, please ring or email us.


Twin/double share: £1550 per person
Double room for sole use supplement: £350
Tour without flights cost: £1450 per person
Deposit: £200 per person


  • Scheduled Eurostar tickets (standard class) from London St Pancras to Lille and return from Brussels Midi to London St Pancras
  • Private coach transfers and excursions in Belguim
  • 4 nights’ bed and breakfast in the 4* Hotel Peellaert, Bruges
  • 2 dinners, 1 lunch
  • Guided visits to sites listed in the programme
  • Services of a lecturer and tour manager
  • Detailed programme and study notes
  • All entrance fees, taxes and gratuities for coach drivers and waiters

Hotel Peellaert, Bruges ★★★★

Converted from the 19th-century home of Baron Peellaert, the elegant four-star Hotel Peellaert has retained much of its historic atmosphere. This quiet hotel is located in a quiet area, close to the main square. As well as a breakfast room, the hotel has a restaurant, lounge bar and secluded courtyard terrace. In the colonnaded mediaeval basement, the spa includes a sauna and steam room.


  • Tea and coffee making facilities
  • Safe
  • TV
  • Iron
  • Hairdryer
  • Minibar
  • Air-conditioning
  • Wi-Fi