City palace reopens as museum in Belgium

City palace

The Museum Hof van Busleyden, an early Renaissance Palace in the heart of Mechelen, is now open. Image courtesy Museum Hof van Busleyden.

MECHELEN, Belgium – After a long restoration phase, the Museum Hof van Busleyden opened to the public this week ahead of the city’s festival weekend June 22-24.

Visitors will marvel over this grand and beautiful renaissance city palace in Mechelen, the capital of the Burgundian Netherlands. They will step back in the footsteps of the museum’s namesake, Hieronymus of Busleyden, as well as Renaissance scholars Erasmus and Thomas More.

Among many Flemish Masters to discover, there will be some exquisite masterpieces such as the Enclosed Gardens and the magnificent choir book from Margaret of Austria’s collection. Guided tours in the museum can be combined with a city walk for an integrated indoor/outdoor experience.

The history of the Hof van Busleyden starts at the end of the 15th century when Frans van Busleyden, chamberlain and tutor to the young Philip I of Castile (Philip the Handsome) followed his master to Mechelen where he settled in a spacious residence at the Koestraat (now the Frederik de Merodestraat). A second smaller house led onto the Lange Biest, today’s Sint-Janstraat. When he died in 1502, the property passed to his three brothers Valeriaan, Gielis and Hiëronymus.

The latter bought his brothers out in 1506, two years after his appointment to the Great Council. He needed a place to suit his new status, after all, and wanted to do this in typical Burgundian aristo- cratic architecture. He would continue working on his residence until he died in 1517. In the centuries that followed the building kept on growing in size.

In 1619, the building was sold to economist and architect Wenceslas Cobergher who set up a mount of piety on the property, a kind of charity pawnbroker’s where people could borrow money at low interest rates in exchange for property. In 1914 a blaze caused by severe shelling ripped through the palace. Reconstruction after the war was slow, but the city council was determined to restore the building to its former glory and wanted to turn it into a museum for the city. The property was rebuilt based on how it looked just before the fire, meaning that the Hof van Busleyden is actually a reconstruction of a romanticized historic building.

The brand new Mechelen City Museum finally opened its doors in 1938 and remained so until it was time for another restoration campaign and extension with underground exhibition spaces, which were the object of a design competition in 1990. Then in 2015, the second phase of the restoration was begun, which would tackle the remainder of the interior. Thanks to its recognition as cultural lever by the Flemish Tourist Office, the museum could be decorated again as a Burgundian city residence.