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Culture & People


Most Belgians tend to view their culture as an integral part of European culture or Western culture; nevertheless, both main communities tend to make their thousands of individual and collective cultural choices mainly from within their own community, and then, when going beyond, the Flemish draw intensively from both the English-speaking culture (which dominates sciences, professional life and most news media) and French and other Latin cultures, whereas French-speakers focus on cultural life in Paris and elsewhere in the French-speaking world (la Francophonie), and less outside. A truly scientific discussion would also include discussion of the different cultures of Belgian ethnic minorities such as the Jews who have formed a remarkable component of Flemish culture – in particular that of Antwerp for over five hundred years.


There are still many old monuments visible in Belgium, like the romanesque Collégiale Saint-Gertrude de Nivelles (1046) and Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Tournai, gothic Antwerp cathedral (15th century) and baroque Brussels Grand' Place. Famous Art Nouveau architects Victor Horta and Henry Van de Velde have influenced the early 20th century architecture in Belgium and abroad.


Belgian literature as such does not exist. Flemish share their authors with the Dutch (see Dutch literature, Flemish literature), and French-speakers with the French (see French literature), which tend to confuse people on Belgian authors', several great French authors went to Belgium for refuge (e.g. Apollinaire, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Verlaine) and conversely, top French-speaking writers often settle in Paris (e.g. Simenon, Amélie Nothomb). It is also sometimes difficult to cast Belgian authors into the French or Flemish category because many Flemish authors have written in French (e.g. Suzanne Lilar) and spent a large part of their lifes outside of Flanders or of Belgium (e.g. Emile Verhaeren or Maurice Maeterlinck). The confusion is also enhanced by the fact that many French-speaking individuals are coming from originally Dutch-speaking families (particularly in Brussels, e.g. Jacques Brel).

Belgium has produced several well-known authors such as poets:

  • Guido Gezelle (1830-1899)
  • Emile Verhaeren (1855-1916)
  • Max Elskamp (1862-1931)
  • Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949)
  • Paul van Ostaijen (1896-1926)
  • Henri Michaux (French born and educated in Belgium, 1899-1984)
  • Jacques Brel (1929–1978)

and writers:

  • Hendrik Conscience (1812-1883)
  • Charles de Coster (1827-1879)
  • Willem Elsschot (1882-1960)
  • Michel de Ghelderode (1898-1962)
  • Georges Simenon 1903-1989
  • Louis Paul Boon (1912-1979)
  • Hugo Claus (born in 1929)
  • Pierre Mertens (born in 1939)
  • Ernest Claes (1885 – 1968)
  • Amélie Nothomb (born in 1967).

Fine Arts

Contributions to painting and architecture have been especially rich. The Mosan art, the Early Netherlandish, the Flemish Renaissance and Baroque painting, and major examples of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture are milestones in the history of art. Famous names in this classic tradition include Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden, Pieter Brueghel the Elder and Theodore de Bry. The historical artistic production of the Flemish before the early 17th century Baroque style of Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck is often not distinguished from that of the Dutch. In the southern Netherlands it gradually declined thereafter, although high quality tapestry continued to be created until well into the 18th century.

During the 19th and 20th centuries many original romantic, expressionist and surrealist Belgian painters emerged, including Egide Wappers, James Ensor, Constant Permeke and René Magritte. The avant-garde CoBrA movement appeared in the 1950s, while the sculptor Panamarenko remains a remarkable figure in contemporary art. The multidisciplinary artist Jan Fabre and the painter Luc Tuymans are other internationally renowned figures on the contemporary art scene. Belgian contributions to architecture also continued into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including the work of Victor Horta and Henry van de Velde, who were major initiators of the Art Nouveau style.

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