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Antwerp and Japan

Mutual focus

The fascination for Japan from Antwerp's side began early. As far back as in the late nineteenth century, there were already fans of Japanese art and visual culture. They often put together impressive collections of Japanese pieces. But, conversely, Antwerp is no stranger to the Japanese either, given how 'A Dog of Flanders', about the Antwerp farmer's boy Nello and his dog Patrasche, is very popular there.

The nine reflections

Antwerp collectors, such as poet and pioneer collector Max Elskamp (1862-1931), created impressive collections of Japanese objects and works of art at the end of the nineteenth century. The centuries-old Buddhist painting series, the 'Negen Overdenkingen over de Onreinheid van het Lichaam' (Nine Reflections on the Impurity of the Body) was purchased by Elskamp in the early 1890s and is now one of the masterpieces of the Japanese MAS collection. 

The small but impressive paintings and their accompanying verses helped monks meditate. We see how the dead body of a young noblewoman gradually decays until nothing is left. The series thus emphasises the transience of the body and the effervescence of the soul. The original series is one of the top pieces from the MAS' Japanese collection and was exhibited again in 'Cool Japan' after a long absence. After three months, the series was replaced by reproductions to protect the delicate colours.

Nello and Patrasche

Conversely, in Japan, there was also a striking fascination with Antwerp, especially with the story about Nello and Patrasche from the 19th-century novel ‘A Dog of Flanders’. The moving story set in Antwerp about orphan boy Nello and his dog Patrasche is well known in Japan thanks to the anime series published in 1975. 

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