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The exhibition could have been designed in a variety of ways reflecting different aspects of and approaches to the central questions. The exhibition’s makers opted for a structure which will satisfy all visitors. Thus the exhibition can be ‘read’ at three levels, catering for secondary-school pupils, art lovers and intellectuals with broad cultural-historical interests.

A first, rather documentary level explores the cultural world of the Archdukes and their Court and puts this in a general European context. The visitor will see the dynastic constellation of early seventeenth-century Europe. The Court of the Archdukes will be situated in the linked network of Habsburg courts (Vienna, Prague, Innsbruck, Graz, Madrid, Lisbon). Special attention will be given to links with the Courts of Rudolph II and of Philip III. A second group of rooms introduces the visitor to the political situation at the time of the reign of the Archdukes. Extensive coverage will be given both to war (the Revolt) and peace (the treaty with England in 1604 and the Twelve Years Truce with the Dutch Republic between 1609 and 1621).

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    The Siege of Ostend (1601-1604), the New Troy as contemporaries called it, and the allegories of peace celebrating the Truce are to be presented in particular depth. The main body of the exhibition will consist of a faithful, though naturally incomplete, reconstruction of the archducal art collection divided into five sections: armour, musical instruments, objets d’art – paintings, sculpture, carpets, jewels, books, etc. – religious objects, and architecture, including landscaping. A walk past Albert’s funeral cortege and a short overview of Isabella’s governess-generalship (1621-1633) conclude the exhibition.

     A second reading is art-historical. Throughout the exhibition the visitor will be presented with opportunities to observe the mutual influence of the arts. Since the Archdukes used all available art media to build their image, the exhibition provides a perfect opportunity to examine how the stereotypical image of the prince was translated into different artistic expressions. The juxtaposition of the art media enables one to see, for instance, the ways in which the portraiture of Rubens influenced the archducal image as developed in engravings or on the coins which they issued. Links between portraits of the Archdukes and religious artefacts, which were thus given an ideological function, will be clarified. A classic example is the representation of Saint Clare on the tapestry Saint Clare among the Doctors of the Church: Clare is shown facing the Archduchess Isabella. In its turn, this tapestry can be compared with the St Clare which Rubens painted for the ceiling of the Jesuit church in Brussels. Mutual references are constantly made visible. In the archducal art collection there are paintings which were shown in other paintings. Surviving goblets, bezoars and astrolabes can be compared with their representation in yet other paintings. This reading of the exhibition undoubtedly shows the internal coherence of the archducal art collection and its function in the Court in a surprising, almost interactive fashion.

     A third level of interpretation concerns the exploration of the intellectual world of Albert and Isabella. The exhibition is built around the mannerist categories which the Archdukes themselves used and which are documented by Brueghel’s Five Senses, painted in collaboration with Hendrick Van Balen, which are at first sight a simple representation of the archducal art collections. Sight and Taste and Smell, Touch and Hearing nonetheless offer an approach to these collections and their context as surprising – at least for us of the 20th Century – as it is valuable. Brueghel’s Touch makes a direct connection with both armaments and love and so opens the possibility of linking the theme of war and peace directly to the art collection itself. His Hearing allegorically reflects on the harmony in South Netherlandish society for which the princes should strive, thus making themselves ideal princes. Sight shows the art cabinet as the opening of a mirror of the world. Taste illustrates not only the taste of the Archdukes, ‘good taste’, but also shows the efforts which the Archdukes made to spread such ‘good taste’ at all levels of society as part of their civilising mission. Finally, Smell, which Brueghel himself linked to Marian devotion, not only examines the archducal gardens and flowers, but also uses these elements to illuminate the ‘odour of sanctity’ and the fundamental Pietas Austriaca.

The central part of this arrangement is formed by the seven-pointed star, the symbol of the archducal attempts to bring about an earthly paradise and to utilise the various arts to that end. The peak of this attempt was the development of the pilgrim site of Scherpenheuvel in a heptagonal church in a heptagonal close.The seven-pointed star at the centre of the layout also embodies the princely sovereignty of Albert and Isabella. Access to the seven-pointed star — the Joyous Entry — and the exit —Albert’s funeral — also comprise two fully developed processions which should give the visitor the impression of participating in the intellectual categories of the Habsburg Court at Brussels.

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Throughout the exhibition the far-reaching influence of the Court of Rudolph II on the perception and self-perception of the Brussels Court is visible.

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