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Architecture in Belgium

Brussels

Guild Houses, Grand Place, 1695ff.


Houses of the Dukes
of Brabant, 1698


House of the Bakers,
aka "King of Spain"


House of the Bakers,
aka "King of Spain"

The first houses in the Grand' Place were all built of wood. They were destroyed in a bombardment by the French army in 1695 during the reign of Louis XIV. The French wars greatly reduced architectural activity in the late seventeenth century. All the buildings on the square were destroyed except the Gothic town hall, one guild house and part of the Gothic Maison du Roi or Broodhuis. The guild houses were rebuilt between 1695 and 1700. Their architectural style is a local interpretation of Italian Baroque. The classicism here seems to be merely overlaid on the traditional architectural design. There is a rich variety of shapes, forms and designs in the grouping of these houses. Although the guild houses are large, they lack the monumentality which comes from a greater simplicity and unity of design. The small scale of the ornamentation, and the richness with which it is applied, give the buildings the intricacy of lace. The individualism of each building prevents the ensemble from being read as a single design. This is not necessarily a flaw, and in fact is characteristic of architecture in Belgium, which almost always emphasizes the individual or small group over the mass.

Most of the guild houses are marked with statues signifying the identity of the guild, which might be the patron saint of their guild, such as the house of the haberdashers, which has a statue of St. Nicholas at the top. The house of the archers has various reliefs relating to archery. The house of the boatmen is perhaps the most unusual; the top portion of the house is designed to resemble the rear deck of a seventeenth century sloop.

The entire south side of the Grand' Place is taken up by six houses which share a single facade, designed by Willem de Bruyn in 1698. Facade sculptures include portraits of the Dukes of Brabant.

Among the guilds represented in the Grand' Place are the Bakers, nos. 1-2. This guild house is often known as "the King of Spain" because of the bust of Charles II on the facade. It was designed by Jan Cosyns. It is a boxy building with a domed lantern on top; the facade uses classical columns and ornament. The facade also has sculptures depicting the elements needed for bread and symbols of the Spanish empire: a captive Native American and African Moor.


Other Art and Architecture Web Links

American Architecture
Digital Archive of American Architecture


Boston College Fine Arts Department Home Page

Boston College
Jeffery Howe, 1997