Museum of Fine Arts Ghent Launches Belgium’s First LGBTQ+ Museum Tour
LGBT+ issues are increasingly the subject of social debate and the Museum of Fine Arts Ghent (MSK) wants to be part of the conversation. That’s why it is launching the first LGBTQ+ tour through the works in its collection. During this guided tour, visitors will have the opportunity to hear the 'other' stories that are literally hanging on the walls of the museum, but which have remained hidden until now.
The LGBTQ+ guided tour of the MSK is a first in Belgium, but it is part of an international context. In recent years, many museums are adopting more inclusive perspectives on their collections. They want to uncover hidden or forgotten stories and allow the public to understand how gender, sexual orientation and sexuality have been experienced differently throughout history.
After consulting the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and the Amsterdam Museum, where similar projects have been very successful, the MSK called on art historians Jonas Roelens and Thijs Dekeukeleire. Armed with fresh insights, the MSK staff and the two historians selected twelve works for the first-ever LGBTQ+ guided tour of a Belgian art museum. There was plenty of material to work with.
François-Joseph Navez, The nymph Salmacis and Hermaphroditus, 1829, MSK Ghent © MSK Ghent
Twelve untold stories
A 17th-century family portrait in which the boys wear long dresses; a major painting showing the transformation of Hermaphroditus; scenes of the goddess Artemis accompanied by her female companions; the Ghent collection’s oldest portrait of a man in love with another man: these are just a few highlights in this brand-new tour.
Cornelis de Vos, family portrait, 1630, MSK Ghent © MSK Ghent
Some of the works directly reference LGBTQ+ history, while others are less obvious in their implications. In one large painting, the Last Judgement is handed down to gay men and lesbians in the setting of Mediaeval Europe. In another, a portrait of a gyaecologist suggests a medical approach to sexuality. Looking at the tour as a whole, it is clear just how divergent people’s opinions on gender and sexual orientation have always been, and visitors are encouraged to think about our diverse views on the same issues today.
Raphael Coxie, The Last Judgement, ca. 1588, MSK Ghent © MSK Ghent
Lifting the veil
The tour was designed and tested entirely by members of the LGBTQ+ community. And the message is clear: LGBTQ+ themes are everywhere in the galleries, but have been invisible for years. The museum believes that it is high time to get rid of this blind spot and to renew the way we look at the works of the past.
The MSK sees this as an important step towards opening up new perspectives that both enrich the works in its collections and enable people to look at them with fresh eyes. Moreover, this is not a definitive tour. Other works of art may be added to the tour, and visitors may also contribute to the LGBTQ+ narrative by reacting to the works presented and sharing their own stories.
For the time being, this LGBTQ+ themed tour is only available in Dutch. For more information, please visit the MSK website.