I love visiting art museums and I love to do it in places which are not necessarily on the beaten track of the art circuit. Of course, the big museums of the world have their fascination, complexity and completeness, but as there are big cathedrals and small churches there are also the bigger and the smaller museums, and the feeling of spirituality for the art lover as for the religious person can be reached whatever the dimensions of the building and of the institution.

Bonnefantenmuseum - the exterior

Actually the Bonnefantenmuseum in Maastricht is not a small institution. In a country and in a geographical area with big art museums and brilliant schools of painting from the Reanaissance until the contemporary times, the museum in Maastricht was founded in 1884 and hosted by the bons enfants (‘good children’) monastery which gives it the name. Today’s building was designed by the Italian architect Aldo Rossi, and it’s original exterior shape reminding somehow an astronomical observatory became one of the landmarks of the landscape of the city on the Maas. Three levels host a collection of fine arts that combines various styles and time periods, from the medieval religious art to contemporary art.

Bonnefantenmuseum - the interior

One of the things that makes Bonnefantenmuseum different is the refuse to present its permanent collection in a chronological order as well as the absence of the categorization of art in epochs and styles that usually guide and lead the visiting experience in the majority of the other museums. The collections of modern art and old masters, medieval and contemporary objects are mixed and as a visitor you exit from one hall and you enter another representing a totally different epoch and style, permanently jumping in time ahead and back. Each new hall represents a surprise, a different epoch, a new experience that allows you to relate to the objects without necessary following the usual didactic path. It’s an Augenspiel (play of the eyes) – concept inspired by a quote from Elias Canetti’s memoirs.

Here are a few pieces I loved most, and I will follow the same technique as in the exhibition, not presenting them in any particular order.

Census at Bethlehem

Census at Bethlehem belongs to the atelier of Pieter Brueghel the Younger, and dates from the beginning of the 17th century. It is believed to belong to the a large extent to the master himself, and inspired by a well known work of the painter’s father. Bethlehem is represented in the tradition of the Flemish masters, as a typical Flemish village in winter.

Rene Daniels - Painting on the Flag

Rene Daniels is a Dutch contemporary painter born in 1950, and he has one full hall of works in the museum. Painting on a Flag was painted during his stay in New York. It is a dialog with the flags paintings of American artists like Jasper Johns (the Dutch and the American flags have the same colors), but also an interesting work by itself with several layers of painting the older one still visible and a game of perspective that catches the eyes.

Two Pharisees

Woodcarving of religious statues is an art well developed in the area, and the Two Pharisees from an Antwerp atelier in the 16th century are a good example.

Saint Catherine of Siena

The 15th century representation of Saint Catherine of Siena belongs to Sano di Pietro, one of the outstanding pieces in the room dedicated to the works of the early Renaissance.

Anselm Kiefer - Le Dormeur du Val

Jumping into contemporaneity we can see one outstanding work of the German artist Anselm Kiefer. Kiefer is one of the most interesting artists in Germany today, dealing with the painful issues of the recent history of Germany including the war and the Holocaust, in a very expressive and daring style.

Head of Saint John the Baptist

English religious art in alabaster has a room of itself with several outstanding pieces among which the allegoric Head of Saint John the Baptist. The unusual style of these pieces are very much worth the attention, I knew very little about the style and the period (15th century) when Nottingham was exporting such works in all the Western Europe.

Altarpiece

Altarpieces combining painting ans sculpture are a genre that florished in the Flemish area around the year 1500. It cannot missed from any serious collection of all Flemish art – here is one piece created in Antwerp arounf 1518.

Sandra Vasquez de la Horra - drawing

Bonnefantenmuseum also hosted two temporary exhibitions. The first included drawings of the Chilean artist Sandra Vasquez de la Horra – combining a fantastic and macabre vision of the world with strongly opinionated political messages.

Sandra Vasquez de la Horra - La Zorpa Manca

Many of her drawings are grouped, and make sense as a whole as well as individual works. They call to close examination and reflection – unfortunately I had too little time and I need to get back some time in the future to look more carefully to the work of the artist.

Pierre Kemp - Fourrures

The second exhibition belongs to the Pierre Kemp, a local of Maastricht, who is also known as one of the finest Dutch poets of the 20th century. The exhibition here comes maybe as a surprise for part of the Dutch audiences, but for the less advised non-Dutch viewer Kemp is certainly an accomplished and mature artist.

Pierre Kemp - Concerns

His Fourrures dated 1929 are sophisticated with erotic hints. Concerns from 1941 resonate with the anxiety of the continent plunged in the horror of war. Both are works of a mature artists, synchronized with the issues and atmosphere of his times, with the artistic trends and techniques of the first half of the past century.