< Last Photo   << Last Chapter                Notes on the Geography of Places: Belgium: Tervuren: Africa Museum         Next Chapter >>   Next Photo > 
 

Notes on the Geography of Belgium: Tervuren: Africa Museum

In 1904, the Congo Museum opened at Tervuren, outside Brussels (and now near the Brussels airport).  Outwardly, the displays have changed little since then, but visitors were once expected to see colonialism as a source of Belgian pride; now, they are expected to see it as a crime disguised as progress.

Make default image size larger

Belgium: Tervuren: Africa Museum picture 1

The museum began with the Brussels World Fair of 1897, which included this building, then called the Palace of the Colonies.  It housed a display of artifacts from the Congo Free State, which had been created in 1885 as King Leopold's private domain. 

Belgium: Tervuren: Africa Museum picture 2

The Palace of the Colonies stood at the edge of the 500-acre Tervuren Park, once attached to a royal chateau.  The chateau itself burned in 1867, and after the World's Fair Leopold decided to build a proper museum on the site of the chateau.  That meant hiring a French architect, ready to imitate Versailles.  Here is the result, courtesy of that architect, Charles Girault.  Not content, Leopold planned a World School and other buildings for the site, but he died in 1909, and they were never built. 

Belgium: Tervuren: Africa Museum picture 3

A year before his death, Leopold sold the Congo Free State to his own countrymen, which explains why Albert I opened Girault's building in 1910 as the Museum of the Belgian Congo.  In 1960 the museum became the Royal Museum for Central Africa. Still, Leopold's doubled initial continues to ornament the building.

Belgium: Tervuren: Africa Museum picture 4

The main entrance.

Belgium: Tervuren: Africa Museum picture 5

An ivory bust of Leopold used to stand in the rotunda.  It not longer does, but this bronze lingers in a museum courtyard.  Leopold's words remain on a museum wall: "To open to civilization the only part of our globe which it has not yet penetrated--to pierce the darkness which hangs over entire peoples--is a crusade worthy of this century of progress."  Even in Leopold's day, there were plenty of observers who found this rhetoric loathsome hypocrisy. 

Belgium: Tervuren: Africa Museum picture 6

The rotunda, flanked with statuary.

Belgium: Tervuren: Africa Museum picture 7

On the rotunda floor are the star and crown that formed the emblem of the Congo Free State.

Belgium: Tervuren: Africa Museum picture 8

The most prominent statues are a set of four gilded bronzes by Arsene Matton (1873-1953), who visited the Congo twice in the course of preparing them.  This group is called "Belgium Bringing Prosperity to the Congo." 

Belgium: Tervuren: Africa Museum picture 9

This is "Belgium Bringing Security to the Congo."

Belgium: Tervuren: Africa Museum picture 10

This is "Belgium Bringing Civilization to the Congo."  The museum's published guide states that these sculptures "are distinctly paternalistic and suggest an enormous distance between the European and African 'races.'"  Visitors a century ago would have agreed but would have found no fault with the Belgians.

Belgium: Tervuren: Africa Museum picture 11

"Slavery."  In this piece, European outrage mingles with and perhaps succumbs to prurience. Arabs are shown repeatedly in the museum--and always in a sadistic light.

Belgium: Tervuren: Africa Museum picture 12

Also in the rotunda, a piece by Arthur Dupagne (1895-1961).  Dupagne himself never visited the Congo.

Belgium: Tervuren: Africa Museum picture 13

Another piece by Dupagne: "Dry Season."

Belgium: Tervuren: Africa Museum picture 14

The floor of the rotunda contains plaster casts of four bronzes executed by the Englishman Herbert Ward (1863-1919), who accompanied Henry Morton Stanley on his expedition of 1887-9 and who later wrote many books and articles on Africa, including Five Years with the Congo Cannibals (1890).  This piece is "The Artist."

Belgium: Tervuren: Africa Museum picture 15

Making Fire.

Belgium: Tervuren: Africa Museum picture 16

"The Idol-Maker."

Belgium: Tervuren: Africa Museum picture 17

"A Congo Chief."  Three of these pieces are illustrated in Ward's  A Voice from the Congo (1910), which he compiled from articles published earlier in Scribner's Magazine.

Belgium: Tervuren: Africa Museum picture 18

Another portrayal of slavery, this time by Charles Samuel (1882-1935): the native protects his wife against the slave-raider.  The wife herself seems remarkably unconcerned.

Belgium: Tervuren: Africa Museum picture 19

A more honest image.

Belgium: Tervuren: Africa Museum picture 20

The Belgians portrayed themselves in the museum, too.  This is Albert Thys (1849-1915), who also participated in Stanley's later expeditions but stayed on as a businessman, founding the Congo Company for Trade and Industry in 1886 and serving for nine years as the administrator of the Company of Katanga.  Thys also recommended construction of the Matadi-Leopoldville railroad, which was completed in 1898.  South of Leopoldville, a railway maintenance center (now Mbanza-Ngungu) was named Thysville in his honor.

Belgium: Tervuren: Africa Museum picture 21

Locomotive builder's plate for the engine "Leopoldville." 


www.greatmirror.com Web   
 

* Australia's Northern Territory * Austria * Bangladesh * Belgium * Botswana * Brazil (Manaus) * Burma / Myanmar * Cambodia (Angkor) * Canada (B.C.) * China * The Czech Republic * Egypt * France * Germany * Ghana * Greece * Hungary * India: Themes * Northern India * Peninsular India * Indonesia * Israel * Italy * Japan * Jerusalem * Jordan * Kenya * Laos * Kosovo * Malawi * Malaysia * Mexico * Morocco * Mozambique * Namibia * The Netherlands * Norway * Oman * Pakistan * The Philippines * Poland * Portugal * Singapore * South Africa * Spain * Sri Lanka * Sudan * Syria (Aleppo) * Tanzania * Thailand * Trinidad * Turkey (Istanbul) * The U.A.E. (Dubai) * The United Kingdom * The Eastern United States * The Western United States * The Heartland State: Oklahoma * Uzbekistan * Vietnam * The West Bank * Yemen * Zimbabwe *
go back to previous picture go to next chapter go to next picture go to previous chapter page