Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium Highlights 2: The Gaze

I thought I’d take a different take on the paintings I looked at as I started to be enthralled by the number of ‘gazes’ I came across.

WARNING: There may be scenes of a ‘distressing’ nature coming up. Bet that keeps a few of you reading!

The Last Judgement,

15th Century

I love a good judgement scene. Bosch does a cracking one, but this I really liked. Take a look at the demon looking out at us – trust me, you’re next!!

Jusepe de Ribera

Apollo skinning Marsyas


This is a horrible story. These two got into a competition as to who could make the most beautiful music. Apollo, with a bit of cheating, won and punished Marsyas by flaying him alive!

The agony on Marsyas’s face is just too real! The fact he locks eyes on you – he is at head height, so you can’t avoid him- makes you complicit in this heinous crime!

Jan Massys

Lot and His Daughters, 1565

Biblical stories made good copy, and the story of Lot being spared by His when Sodom and Gommorah was destroyed due to its immorality, was perfect as a subject.

Lot and his family were spared, but warned not to look back. Lot’s wife did and was turned into a pillar of salt. Knowing that it was their duty to continue the chosen people, Lot’s daughters got their father drunk in order to seduce him.

This story can be taken two ways: the legitimate reasoning of carrying on the line, or it can be seen as an amoral tale. The daughter looking out at us, revealing her beauty, with her hand resting gently on his chest, is more in line with a seductive scene.

Theodoor Rombouts, Prometheus, 17th century

The famous story of Prometheus giving humans fire and being punished for this by his fellow gods by having his liver pecked out every day, only for it to grow back and the torment to continue, has long fascinated artists, writers and poets.

It is a gruesome tale and Rombouts totally understands this.

The pain Prometheus endures is frightening. Although he doesn’t look directly out at us as Marsyas does, but by reversing it, we can see just how agonizing this really is.

Charles de Groux

The Blessing, 1861

This painting ticks all my boxes for social realism. The title, The Blessing, tells us that here is a family grateful for the bounty on their table, provided by their God. But look again.

Ten people are waiting to be fed. A dog sits expectedly next to the one person he knows will give him any scraps. No one round that table is happy, and the wife, sat at the end of the table, is the only one to provide nourishment to her offspring.

The pot news to feed those ten people. But, is it brimming over with stew? Is there bread on the table to mop up the gravy? Little wonder the head of the family looks out at us with such a grim expression. What have they really got to be grateful for?

Xavier Malley

The Dance, 1888

This is a powerful painting. You can hear the stomping of the feet, feel the heat from the movement, but you also have to wonder how the circle does not break with everyone facing outward.

Only one dancer catches our eye and she is the most powerful of all the dancers. Is she the one who holds it altogether?

A really good visit overall!