Painting in Bruges & Ghent

Van Eyck's Optical Revolution

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Van Eyck, The Madonna and Child of Canon George van der Paele, Bruges, Groeningemuseum
Monday 30 March - Friday 3 April 2020 (5 Days)



Wonderful introduction to Flanders in all its variety

Exhibition visit to ‘Van Eyck: an Optical Revolution’ in Ghent included

Visit led by renowned expert on Flemish painting & consultant on the exhibition

Itinerary focuses on Van Eyck, Memling & other major Flemish renaissance masters

Gentle pace with time for independent exploration

Good hotel, wonderfully located & excellent food

Tour Overview

Flanders was home to some of the greatest painters of the late medieval and renaissance periods.  One of the most economically developed and culturally rich areas of Europe, it was ruled by the Dukes of Burgundy and subsequently by the Habsburgs, its wealth founded on the manufacture of high quality textiles and international trade. Cosmopolitan and enterprising, the great Flemish cities of Bruges and Ghent fostered developments that shaped the course of history, from international banking and the rise of printing to the Protestant Reformation. 

These cities were also centres of artistic innovation.  It was here that in the early fifteenth century Jan van Eyck, through the meticulous observation of reality and the skilful manipulation of oil paint – an ‘optical revolution’, no less – developed a naturalistic pictorial language that was to influence artists as far afield as Italy. A second, parallel, approach was pioneered by Roger van der Weyden, based largely in Brussels, whose work, no less technically accomplished, strove for a more spiritual presentation of sacred narratives. Both men came to influence subsequent generations with Hugo van der Goes in Ghent and above all, Hans Memling in Bruges, at the forefront of later developments.

We shall explore late medieval Bruges, with its gothic Belfry and Cloth Hall, merchants’ houses, its masterpieces by Van Eyck and Memling, and Michelangelo’s famous Madonna and Child – testimony to the international trade linking Bruges and Florence. We shall also visit Ghent, to see the great altarpiece of the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb by Jan and Hubert van Eyck, which is to be the focus of a major exhibition in the city’s Fine Arts Museum in Spring 2020, entitled ‘Jan van Eyck: an Optical Revolution’. 

The visit will be led by Paula Nuttall, one of the acknowledged experts on Flemish and Florentine painting in the fifteenth century, and the author of several acclaimed books and exhibition catalogues including a contribution to the Ghent 2020 Van Eyck exhibition, on which she has consulted. The visit will be based at the beautifully appointed 4* Hotel De Tuilerieën in Bruges, on one of the city’s principal canals, a stone’s throw from all the main sights.  There will be ample opportunity for strolling along the tranquil canals of Bruges and sampling its myriad chocolate shops.

Paula was exceptionally good-always kind, friendly, helpful & of course knowledgeable. Geoffrey was great - always one step ahead with the organisation, & most amusing.
Mrs H BC, Oxfordshire

Day by day

Day 1: Monday 30 March
We travel by Eurostar to Lille and onwards by coach to Bruges. On arrival there will be an Introductory Walk in the historic centre of medieval Bruges, taking in its commercial and civic buildings and squares, including the famous Gothic Belfry and the Town Hall, enabling us to imagine the city in its mercantile heyday.  The Belfry sits atop a covered market, begun about 1280 and by 1486 the present silhouette was complete. The Town Hall was built between 1376 and 1420 and the architect was Pieter van Oost. Though small in scale, its exuberant external embellishment with a steeply pitched roof and overhanging turrets crowned by spires, all add to a festive air; inside, the spectacular wooden ceiling of the Aldermens’ chamber dates from the 1370s. Later that evening we have our first group dinner - wine, water and coffee will be included with all group dinners.
Day 2: Tuesday 31 March
We begin at Bruges’s Groeninge Museum, where we have our first encounter with fifteenth century Flemish painting.  Undoubtedly the star of the collection is Jan van Eyck’s glorious Virgin with Canon van der Paele. The Museum has an important work by Hans Memling, the Moreel Triptych, together with works by or attributed to Roger van der Weyden, Hugo van der Goes, Gerard David and Hieronymus Bosch.  After some free time for lunch (not included) we leave on foot for a stroll through the old Merchants’ Quarter, where from the fourteenth century merchants from England, Spain, Germany and Italy lived and traded. The Beurse, where many of the Italians congregated, named after a family of innkeepers, has given its name to the word for stock exchange in many European languages. Hof Bladelin was built about 1440 by Pieter Bladelin, Treasurer to Duke Phillip the Good but was subsequently acquired in 1466 by Tommaso Portinari for the Medici Bank and given some “Italianate” additions.
Day 3: Wednesday 1 April
Ghent is about an hour away from Bruges by coach and was, like Bruges, a great cloth-producing centre in the middle ages, which also derived its wealth from river traffic.  Artistically, Ghent’s greatest claim to fame is the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb altarpiece by Jan and Hubert van Eyck, regarded as the cornerstone of Netherlandish painting.  Some of the 24 panels of this breathaking ensemble, recently spectacularly restored, are the nucleus of a major exhibition, Van Eyck: an Optical Revolution, at the city’s Museum of Fine Arts, where our visit begins.  The exhibition is a unique opportunity to view these restored panels together with other important works by Jan van Eyck and his contemporaries, including Italian artists such as Fra Angelico, enabling us to contextualise Jan’s groundbreaking artistic achievements.  Lecturing is not usually permitted in the exhibition, but we have obtained special permission for this.  The coach will then take us into central Ghent for lunch (not included).  We continue with a stroll though the historic city centre, where the Graslei and Korenlei Merchant Houses are important survivals, giving us a sense of Ghent’s mercantile past.  Our visit concludes at the vast, late gothic St Bavo’s Cathedral, where we shall see those panels of the Ghent Altarpicce not in the exhibition; although lecturing is not allowed in front of the original, we can see a full-scale replica in the Vijd chapel – its original location.  We shall then return to Bruges and the rest of the evening will be free.
Day 4: Thursday 2 April
We leave the hotel on foot for our morning visits, beginning with the Church of Our Lady, home since 1506 to Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna and where the last Duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bold (d.1477), and his daughter Mary of Burgundy (d.1482), are buried in a pair of superb gilded bronze tombs.  We shall then visit Old St John’s Hospital.  Founded in the twelfth century, its medieval wards now house a fascinating collection narrating the hospital’s past as a centre of medical care. However, it is perhaps more famous as it also houses the Hans Memling Museum, devoted to the leading painter in late fifteenth century Bruges. German by birth, Memling (who died in 1494) spent most of his life in Bruges. He built up a prosperous business as he was one of the city’s largest taxpayers in 1480. His religious works are full of figures calmly pious in their spirituality such as in the St John Triptych. He was also a gifted portraitist, as seen in the Diptych of Marrten van Niewenhove, a type of half-length that may have been known to Italian artists such as Perugino and Giovanni Bellini. After our visit, the rest of the afternoon will be free for independent exploration.  Our final group dinner will be in a local restaurant.
Day 5: Friday 3 April
On our last morning we visit the Basilica of the Holy Blood, originally built in the twelfth century as the chapel of the residence of the Count of Flanders. Our final visit will be to the unusual Jerusalem Church, built in the fifteenth century as a copy of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, commissioned by the wealthy Adornes family, who had come to Bruges in the thirteenth century from Genoa.  After some free time for lunch (not included) we travel by coach to Lille, where we take the Eurostar to London.
Most Excellent. So very impressed with Paula and Geoffrey Nuttall - they were endlessly considerate, great fun and indefatigable..
Lady L, Oxfordshire


  • Price: £1,775 per person
  • Price without Eurostar: £1,635
  • Deposit: £250
  • Single Supplement: £395 (Double Room for Sole Use)
  • Tour Manager: Geoffrey Nuttall

Hotel Details

4 nights with breakfast at the 4* Tuilerieën


Eurostar Standard Seating

            Outward:          9126 Depart London St Pancras 1104 Arrive Lille 1326

            Return:             9153 Depart Lille 1835 Arrive London St Pancras 1915

Upgrade to Standard Premier Seating £100, includes a light meal and drinks served to your seat

Price includes

2 dinners with water, wine & coffee, all local transfers, entry fees & gratuities, services of Paula Nuttall & tour manager Geoffrey Nuttall

Not included

Travel to & from London St Pancras, 2 dinners & 4 lunches


Current Conditions

Weather Conditions for Bruges in June are:
Average Temperature between: 11oC - 22oC / 51oF - 71oF
Average Rainfull: 76mm / 3 inches



Fitness levels

We do expect a reasonable level of fitness. For full details see our frequently asked questions.

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