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The collections of Brussels’ museums: permanent treasures

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Les Iguanodons de Bernisssart © Muséum des Sciences naturelles, Th. Hubin
Published at 03/02/2021
By Mylène

Temporary exhibitions punctuate the seasons and give us a desire for change and variety. But this year, more than ever, as the pandemic disrupts the calendar, the large permanent collections of our capital's museums are safe and bursting with secrets, surprising objects and masterpieces to be rediscovered. We think we know them like the back of our hand, but in addition to the many surprises they have in store for us, they tell us a lot about the cultural history of Brussels. Here's an overview of some of the capital's most beautiful permanent collections.

THE MIM (MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS MUSEUM)

MIM - Musée des instruments de musique (c) MRAH

In addition to its Art Nouveau façade, which is ever-present on trendy Instagram feeds, the MIM boasts a fine collection of some 1,200 rare pieces. Spread over four floors, these instruments come from all over the world and take visitors on a journey back in time spanning from ancient times to Jean Michel Jarre!

Armed with your audio guide, let yourself be led between the sculpted drums of the Congo, superb violas da gamba, the oldest saxophone in the world and even the amazing barrel organ known as the "tooth puller"! This instrument decorated with automatons actually represents an open-air dentist's scene. It is said that during the 19th century, in public squares, the powerful melody of the barrel organs covered the screams of the patients being worked on with the tooth puller! Ouch!

Another great reason to visit the MIM? The second floor, dedicated to European instruments, has just been stunningly renovated... so let's hear it for music!

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ROYAL MUSEUMS OF FINE ARTS OF BELGIUM

Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique - (c) Julien Hayard

Did you know that of the 20,000 or so works in their collections, the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium only exhibit 2,000? That just shows how many they have in storage! In their exhibition halls, you can drift serenely from the 15th to the 21st century through a series of emblematic movements in the history of art. We come across the brushstrokes of great masters like Rogier van der Weyden, Jérôme Bosch or Quentin Metsys (Old Masters) but also of Pierre Bonnard, Paul Klee or Klimt (Musée Fin de siècle Museum). The tour offers a beautiful intimate encounter with the Flemish Primitives and some emblematic works of the avant-gardes. A special mention goes to the beautiful works of James Ensor and the melancholy works of Léon Spilliaert.

Looking to lift your spirits in these times of social distancing? The iconic painting The King Drinks, by Belgian painter Jacob Jordaens, is one of our favourites. Dating back to the 17th century, it plunges us into the wild atmosphere of a well-watered and warm family feast.

For an extraordinary, out of this world encounter with the works of Rene Magritte, head to the adjoining museum that bears the name of the great master of surrealism. An immersive and intimate scenography guides you through the meanders of the painter's unbridled imagination.

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ART & HISTORY MUSEUM

In the heart of Cinquantenaire Park, the Art & History Museum is a real playground for urban adventurers. Covering 4 hectares and some 140 rooms, the museum takes you from national archaeology to decorative art, through antiquity and non-European civilisations.

Among the real stars of this collection, don't miss the gigantic Moai of Easter Island, 6 tons of history inscribed in a massive andesite block almost 3 metres tall. Did the Peruvian mummy of Rascar Capac haunt your dreams when you were a child? Head to hall 36 for an intense face-to-face encounter with "He-who-unleashes-fire-from-the-sky". A little further on, Tintin enthusiasts will also recognise the small pre-Columbian wooden statuette that inspired the statuette from "The Broken Ear", another jewel in the collections of the Art & History Museum.

In every room, you can enjoy the magnificent details of lesser-known but no less moving pieces, each of which tells a story in its own right. The exotic collection includes an Inuit kayak, a mysterious ivory profile of the Sphinx by Belgian sculptor Charles Van der Stappen and an astonishing Merovingian glass drinking horn that has survived for centuries…

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AFRICAMUSEUM

(c) Musée d'Afrique Centrale

In 2018, after 5 years of renovation work, the Africamuseum finally reopened. It was given a new look by making its spaces more fluid and its scenography was made more modern, more interactive and, above all, based on a critical view of colonisation. A view that takes a look at the past and the present without forgetting the future. A vision that is also reflected in the architecture of the site, skilfully combining contemporary additions with the architecture of the original building, dated 1910.

Walking through the permanent collections reveals Central Africa's many facets: elaborate masks, breathtaking zoological collections (from elephants to butterflies), everyday objects and even a music corner echoing with the sound of rumba. One of the museum's highlights is Moseka, the rolling robot. Almost 2 metres high, adorned with LED lights and equipped with a voice, this android regulates traffic on the streets of Kinshasa and other Congolese cities.

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MUSEUM OF NATURAL SCIENCES

Planète vivante, Museum d'histoire naturelle Bruxelles - (c) T Hubin - RBINS

As you walk up Rue Vautier, the monumental silhouette of a life-size dinosaur can be seen in the distance. You've almost arrived at the Museum of Natural Sciences, home to the largest dinosaur gallery in Europe!

For those of you who know the Bernissart Iguanodons and the Gallery of Humankind by heart, take a tour of one of the most exciting new features of the moment: the museum's new permanent "Living Planet" exhibition. Covering everything from giraffes to aphids, it deploys a modern and interactive scenography to celebrate biodiversity with 850 specimens of terrestrial and marine animals. Bathed in natural light and free from any species classification, a brown bear can stand next to a hornbill and a llama has a disconcerting face-off with a cheetah! It's an exciting immersive journey into the heart of what makes our ecosystem so rich. Not to be missed by nature lovers!

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