Hidden Belgium: Bruegel House

Hidden Belgium: Bruegel House

It’s called the Bruegel House. The tall step-gabled brick at Rue Haute 132 in Brussels dates from the 16th century.

The artist Pieter Bruegel settled in the Marolles district with his wife Maken in 1563. But was this the house where they lived? A plaque was attached to the façade in 1924 to mark the 400th anniversary of Bruegel’s birth. So that seems to suggest he lived here.

The house nearly became a museum in 2017 when the Museum of Fine Arts came up with a plan to open a Bruegel museum. But first the building had to be restored and the back garden replanted in 16th-century style.

It was an exciting plan. After all, this was the house where Bruegel painted some of his most famous works including The Tower of Babel and The Census at Bethlehem. The original paintings are mostly in Vienna. But still. Just imagine.

The museum was due to open in 2019. The country was working at the time on a major celebration to mark the 450th anniversary of Bruegel’s death in 1569.

But then the plan fell apart. The authorities couldn’t agree on what to do with the house. And the moment passed.

It turns out there is no record that Bruegel ever lived at this address. The official city records were lost when the town hall burned down in 1695. An analysis of the rings on the oak beams proved that the trees were felled in 1541, so the house was definitely here when Bruegel arrived in town. But the only link to Bruegel is a document proving that his grand-daughter Anne lived in the house and bequeathed it to her son.

Look more closely at the plaque. It doesn’t actually mention that Bruegel lived in this house. It was just an urban myth.

Derek Blyth’s hidden secret of the day: Derek Blyth is the author of the bestselling “The 500 Hidden Secrets of Belgium”. He picks out one of his favourite hidden secrets for The Brussels Times every day.

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