Posterity remembers Emma Hamilton as the mistress of Nelson. The reality is her achievements in the society salon were in their way as brave and out of the ordinary as his naval exploits.
The cliché is that first novels are always autobiographical. Dutch writer Jeroen Blokhuis instead hides behind the biographical in his verbal portrait of one of the greatest painters his nation has produced.
Le Corbusier has mostly gone down in history as a visionary Swiss urban planner. For the thousands forcibly evicted from District Six in Cape Town, he has a more sinister resonance as the proponent of “the surgical method” – as mentioned in the notorious apartheid-era Group Areas Act – of sweeping away what he saw as chaos and disorder.
From stylised art nouveau temptresses to giant Tintin cartoons, Brussels has an established tradition of putting art on the outside of its buildings as well as inside. The capital’s newest gallery in a former brewery in Molenbeek – the neighbourhood notorious as a breeding ground of the Paris and Brussels terror attacks – captures that spirit.
As if an extraordinary imagination for fantastic, unsettling monsters and a genius ahead of his time for sensitive, naturalistic depictions of ordinary people weren’t enough, Hieronymous Bosch also had a modern knack for successful branding.
Northern Ireland’s permanent representation in Brussels periodically brings to the capital of Europe a sample of Northern Irish culture in a spirit of cross-cultural exchange that risks being disrupted in the event of a Brexit.
An exhibition of the extraordinary output of France’s Henri Cartier-Bresson, hailed as the founder of photojournalism and “the eye of the century”. That is true in the fullest sense of the words, given his exceptional ability to see the telling detail, or, in his own words, to seize the fact related to “the deep reality”.
What exactly is the essence of Belgium? Far harder to pin down than French chic or English sang-froid, the nation’s uneasy mix of Walloon and Flemish, surreal and down-to-earth, all miraculously held together, is perfectly encapsulated by the Atomium – a giant, futuristic structure on the northern edge of Brussels.
Romeo Castellucci at Brussels’ La Monnaie (De Munt in Dutch) opera house takes a real-life sufferer of locked-in syndrome and turns her into the protagonist of Ophee et Eurydice (adapted by Hector Berlioz from Gluck).
One of the more unlikely joys of Brussels life is the rotating EU presidency. Every six months, a different member of the 28-strong European Union takes on the task of presiding over policy-making. For the citizens of Brussels, it’s a chance for a cultural mini break without the expense and inconvenience of braving the airport.
In Brussels, art nouveau found its most complete expression in the architecture of Victor Horta. Now the Brussels’ Musees Royaux des Beaux Arts has devoted a huge new “Fin-de-Siecle” section, a museum in itself, to the artistic context in which he thrived.