The final day of a bike trip like this often involves very little biking, as people have trains to catch and places to go. Today’s ride was 11 miles and the beginning looked very familiar as it was exactly what we had done yesterday with Evan. We rode under the bridge with the mirrors, out past the deer pastured along the dirt bike path. Instead of stopping at knotpoint 70, we kept on going (“That’s my nettle patch!” I told Mitchell) and eventually circled back into town. waiting at least ten minutes for a raised drawbridge to lowe so we could cross back into Bruges proper.
In the afternoon, Sharon, Alan & I went to the Groeninge Museum, almost right next to our hotel. I knew Jan van Eyck’s Canon van der Paele Madonna was there, one of the great paintings, one I have taught every time I teach the Northern Renaissance but had never seen in person. It was larger than I expected but no less beautiful. As Suzanne says, no one has ever painted like Jan van Eyck, before or since. The level of detail is so remarkable. The gemstones along the hem of the Virgin’s gown: pearls, lapis lazuli & what looked like agate, each painted with such verisimilitude you would have sworn you could touch them. The sheen of armor, the glow of candle flames. Amazing. But there were other masterpieces there as well – van Eyck’s portrait of his wife, Hugo van der Goes’ almost hallucinatory Death of the Virgin, and Gerard David’s Judgment of Cambyses, a textbook (meaning I teach it) example of northern realism in its gory depiction of a corrupt judge being flayed alive. It too was larger – and harder to take – than I expected. In addition to the Flemish not-so-primitives, there was also a haunting pastel/colored pencil work by the Belgian Symbolist Fernand Khnopff and a creepy early Magritte.
Mitchell had taken the boys to the vintage bike shop, to see Viking artifacts at the Crown Plaza Hotel, and into a random cathedral to kill time before meeting us back at the hotel at 3:30. We all went together to the church of Our Lady to see Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna. Our tour guide had touted this as Bruges’s most beautiful work of art; I was thinking at the time that the van Eyck might be stiff competition. Unfortunately, the Michelangelo lives in a chapel that you are not allowed to enter. You have to look at it from several yards away. We also saw the tombs of Philip the Bold and Mary of Burgundy. Here is what that boys thought of the church:
Yes, a picture is worth a thousand words of unremitting boredom. Agh, they’re making us look at Burgundian tombs. Brains leaking out ears!!! Afterwards we took a taxi to our new lodging, Hotel Aragon, which disappointed William by not being either Hotel Eragon or Hotel Aragorn. Dinner was Italian – that’s always fun because Italian restaurants here always involve Italian waiters, so I get to speak some Italian. Tomorrow we go to Brussels to see how I do with French.