From private collection to museum: The Antwerp burgomaster Florent van Ertborn (1784-1840) as art collector and donor

Jozef Glassée, 16 December 2012

In 1840 the Academy Museum of Antwerp (today the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp; KMSKA) acquired 115 paintings by European Primitives. This outstanding collection, which included masterpieces by Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden, and Jean Fouquet, had been amassed by the Antwerp burgomaster and art collector Florent van Ertborn. In his last will and testament, drawn up in 1832, he bequeathed the collection to the city of Antwerp. The gift was unprecedented, even in Europe. Van Ertborn was a pioneer in the renewed appreciation for the Flemish Primitives, when the Antwerp Academy was still overwhelmingly dominated by esteem for Baroque painters such as Rubens, Van Dyck, and Jordaens.

This lecture focused on the gradual recognition that the burgomaster had in fact built up a collection of masterpieces. Why did Van Ertborn collect paintings, and how did he recognize excellence? Why did he want his collection to hang in the local museum, and does it tell us something about his view of that museum’s future role? The lecture also looked at what happened to the collection after Van Ertborn’s death, and the way in which the people of Antwerp, the city council, international art connoisseurs, and the Academy viewed the paintings.