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Rare and indispensable

Masterpieces from Flemish collections

Magritte, Bacon, Ensor, Moore, Jordaens, Rubens … These are just some of the world-famous names on display at the MAS in autumn 2023. The not-to-be-missed exhibition 'Rare and Indispensable' brings a unique selection of masterpieces from the Flemish masterpiece list. Works of art you would otherwise have to travel all over Flanders to see, or which were never even publicly accessible, can now be temporarily admired in one museum hall. All in honour of the 20th anniversary of the 'Flemish Masterpiece Decree'.

    Tuesday 31 October 2023 until Sunday 25 February 2024 from 10:00 to 17:00

Over twenty museums, large and small, as well as churches, libraries and private collectors, temporarily lend masterpieces from their collections to the MAS. All works are part of the Flemish Masterpiece List or have been acquired by the government since 2003.

Famous paintings by Hugo van der Goes, Rubens, Jordaens, Ensor, Magritte and Bacon, sculptures by Lucas Faydherbe and Henry Moore, as well as precious silver, medieval manuscripts and a rare piece of furniture by Pierre Gole, ébeniste du roi of the French king Louis XIV, can exceptionally be admired in one place at the same time.

Curators Thomas Leysen and Ben Van Beneden, members of the 'Topstukkenraad' (Masterpiece council), selected all the masterpieces for this exhibition.

The MAS has 6 Flemish masterpieces in its collection. Two of these will be exposed in the exhibition, two other works are on display in the Visible Storage on the 2e floor (free entrance to the public).

'Rare and indispensable' will be a must-see, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Flemish Masterpiece Decree. Visitors can expect a surprising journey through European art history.

Flemish Masterpiece Decree

What is valuable must be protected: that is the idea of the Flemish Masterpiece Decree. Since its creation in 2003, almost 1,000 objects and collections have been acknowledged and protected as masterpieces due to their exceptional historical, cultural-historical, archaeological, scientific or artistic significance.

This is done after research and consideration: movable cultural heritage is given a 'masterpiece status' if it is considered rare and indispensable. The 'Topstukkenraad' supports the government in protecting and restoring the masterpieces and gives advice on acquisitions. Thanks to the decree, the government strengthens public collections by acquiring important masterpieces.

An acknowledged masterpiece may not be loaned or sold to anyone outside Flanders without permission. Before the decree existed, portraits by Jacob Jordaens moved to the Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam). The London National Gallery was able to acquire four magnificent still-lifes by Joachim Beuckelaar in 2001. Today, this would be impossible.

To mark the 20th anniversary of this Masterpiece Decree, the Flemish government (Department of Culture, Youth and Media and Event Flanders) and the MAS set up this prestigious exhibition with Flemish masterpieces of the highest quality, selected to be shown uniquely together.

Practical information

  • 'Rare and indispensable. Masterpieces from Flemish collections' is on display from 31 October 2023 until 25 February 2024, on the 3rd floor of the MAS.

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Some masterpieces on display:

From scribble to carton

The Flemish government also placed many old master drawings on their masterpiece list, including rare artworks by Frans Floris, Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony Van Dyck, Jacques Jordaens, Otto van Veen, Jan Fijt and many more.

The majority of these masterpieces are kept in the Museum Plantin-Moretus. The museum sees the official recognition of these drawings as masterpieces as an opportunity to put its unique collection in the spotlight. The exhibition presents an overview that illustrates who, why and how people drew in our regions in the 16th and 17th century. It is a unique opportunity to see the 80 most beautiful drawings side by side. 

Read more about this exhibition

See also


FREE ENTRANCE | In the new exhibition 'Eyecatchers', 16 Antwerp residents give their own take on our collection and choose their personal masterpiece. Because a masterpiece is something different for everyone. On display from 31 October 2023.

Guided tours

Looking at art

A guide will take you on a surprising journey through art history, with a focus on learning to look at art.

Book a guide via Experience Antwerp

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