Approximately half of M’s collection consists of prints, some 25,000 in total. An enormous treasure trove of images from the late Middle Ages to the present day, with work by big names as well as unknown artists.
The exhibition ‘Impressive!’ is a unique opportunity to become acquainted with this print room. Volunteers play a major role in preserving, cataloguing and digitising the collection. Anyone visiting the exhibition will be able to see them at work – unless the corona measures do not prevent this.
Which pieces you get to see, depends on when you visit M. The prints are changed every three months: there will be three different set-ups.
The exhibition is organised around themes. The volunteers helped to make the selection. Below, six of them explain their favourite prints.
Nature. Amazement and science
At the time of the great voyages of discovery, printmaking was in full development. Ships set sail for the four corners of the world and returned with stories and goods from strange, exotic places. Printmakers made detailed depictions of these discoveries. Their work illustrates how both art and science search for ways to depict and explain the world.
Bie, volunteer image maker
“Maria Sibylla Merian is one of the few female artists in the collection. She had a passion for research and science, and made important contributions to such fields as insectology. This particularly beautiful print shows a triumphant caiman and a very agile snake.”
Battle. About glory and horror
Many prints depict the glory of war: magnificent battlefields, horsemen in gleaming armour, victorious generals... But some artists also portray what remains when the cannon roar has died down: sons and fathers who do not return home, people wandering orphaned among the rubble.
Stefan, conservation volunteer
“It struck me that a large part of the collection is about war, and that the makers also have an eye for the suffering and pain of ordinary people.
The Leuven artist Albert Delaunois took to the streets himself in August 1914 to depict how German soldiers had destroyed the city. You can see from his sketches that he had to do it quickly and in secret.”
Leuven. Monuments and people
Many of the prints and drawings in the collection reflect 500 years of local history. They show how Leuven used to look, but also how it wanted to be seen: as an ambitious town with impressive buildings. The prints also give an impression of how the people of Leuven lived: poverty, war and destruction were depicted just as much as peace, prosperity and entertainment.
Bart, volunteer for registrations
“I know many of the places depicted in the prints. It is very interesting that you can see how it used to be. This print of Arenberg castle, for example: the artist stood on the spot where I often stand. He has depicted the water mill and the chapel above the gate very beautifully.”
Nature. Peace and reflection
Prints were mainly made in the cities. Significantly, therefore, they often have nature and life in the countryside as subjects. They evoke an idyllic image of innocence and simplicity, of noble farmers and shepherds living in harmony with nature. That longing for peace, greenery and tranquillity is still present today – perhaps even more so than back then
Frans, volunteer registration
“Walking in greenery brings me peace. Apparently, this love for nature is timeless, because many prints and drawings from the collection depict a paradisiacal kind of nature.”
“In the walker with the stick I recognise something of myself. He looks out over the fields and becomes completely stills – you can see him thinking.”
Love. Idyll and Deceit
Love unleashes the fiercest of emotions. It brings out the most beautiful in people, but also the ugliest. In art, this theme can be found in all periods and all genres. The print room, too, contains countless love scenes: images of pleasure and idyll, but also of envy and deceit. No roses without thorns, although love conquers all in the end.
Annemie, volunteer image maker
“These prints represent current events for me. Relationships are under pressure, opposites are driven to the extreme. This leads to sadness, jealousy and broken relationships. But on the other hand, there are people who are starting to realise again how incredibly valuable their love for each other is.”
Devotion. Hands of hope
The theme of religion also returns regularly in the collection. Depictions of Christ, Mary, saints and places of pilgrimage are particularly popular. They bear witness to devotion, but also to the human longing for protection and solidarity. To be able to come to rest and give things a place. In uncertain times, people look for something to hold on to, a tangible sign of hope.
Annemie, volunteer image maker
“I often saw my father pray. He was very religious and drew a lot of comfort from it. But for me devotion is broader than faith. It is looking for a place to be still for a moment. My father told me: fold your hands and you will become quiet.
“I come closer to myself in silence. Wandering alone in nature or in a museum can be so soothing. I get strength from that. Everyone looks for a connection with something outside themselves, something that gives hope in difficult moments.”