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The reign of the Archdukes Albert of Austria and Isabella Clara Eugenia of Spain is without a doubt a key period in the history of the Low Countries. Their reign, after forty years of war, brought peace and the renaissance of the economy of the Southern Netherlands. At the same time they built up a separate South-Netherlandish identity, and thus built the foundations for the lasting separation of the Netherlands, not only territorially, but also in the minds of the people. Finally, the Archdukes consolidated the authority of the House of Habsburg over the Southern Netherlands and largely succeeded in reconciling existing anti-Spanish feelings.

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In their attempt to create an independent state and, when it became apparent that independence would not last, to reincorporate the Southern Provinces into the Spanish monarchy, the Archdukes used the most diverse means of communication. In getting their message across to all levels of the Flemish population, the visual arts were an essential medium, and baroque, in the wake of the Catholic Reformation, the perfect idiom. By stimulating this artistic movement they gave a not inconsiderable impulse to what was to come to be called ‘Flemish Baroque’. Their patronage of such artists as Rubens, Brueghel, Coebergher, the De Nole family, the Van Veens and many others were the beginning of a Golden Age in the Southern Netherlands.

The political configuration of the period as well as such artistic achievements made the Court at Brussels one of the foremost political and artistic centres in Europe. The Brussels Court was not only the ideal forum for domestic power politics, it was a testing ground for the Spanish Monarchy’s European plans. The Treaty of London and the Twelve Years Truce were brought about thanks to the active involvement of the Archdukes in the negotiations. Brussels was a magnet for defectors, spies and penitent traitors. The relations between Madrid and Vienna, but also between Madrid and Paris, London and The Hague, ran through Brussels.

The European aspect of the Court was partly a result of the role Brussels filled as one link in a chain of Habsburg courts. Mutual influence, especially of an artistic nature, was inevitable. An extensive art traffic grew up between Lisbon, Madrid, Brussels, Graz, Innsbruck, Prague and Vienna. Economic and social novelties reached Brussels through this chain. And ultimately, the composition of its members showed the European dimension of the Brussels Court: Spanish confessors, Italian counsellors, Burgundian functionaries, English musicians, German bodyguards and Belgian nobles formed a mosaic of nationalities which not only competed in their mutual struggles for power and patronage, but also sought to surpass one another in artistic excellence and ultimately achieved a remarkable co-operation which against all expectations restored the seaworthiness of the ship of Monarchy.

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In 1998 it will be four hundred years since the Archdukes Albert and Isabella made their Joyous Entries into the foremost cities of the Southern Netherlands. The exhibition will take the occasion of this centenary to illuminate the Brussels Court in its European dimension. An international exhibition, which would also visit this other centre of the Habsburg Monarchy —Madrid — seems to be the appropriate manner of doing so.


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