The Middle Ages will have you in stitches!


Those who associate the Middle Ages with gloom and austerity will definitely change their minds after a visit to the KBR in Brussels, the former Royal Library of Belgium, which will reopen on 18 September 2020.


Most people think that wars, famine, disease and religious rigours were the greatest evils facing medieval people. However, the Librairie des Ducs de Bourgogne, a valuable collection of some 300 manuscripts reflecting their power and prestige, gives a more nuanced picture. Besides religious books, it includes chivalric novels in Latin, French and Dutch, poetry, historical chronicles, travel accounts and scientific works. It covers the whole world of medieval thought. It is not only gloom and torment that are the norm. This royal series of books leaves room - literally - for mischief. From around 1250 onwards, illuminators with a sense of humour created all kinds of decorations in the margins of manuscripts, next to the initials and images on the manuscript page. Satire and the grotesque distract the attention of the reader, who in fact is revealed to be a spectator. The roles are reversed in this mundus inversus: you see armed soldiers running away from snails or a donkey teaching Scripture.

Other books, notably the animal epic of the French Ancien Régime, the 'Roman de Renart', bear witness to the same mischievousness in the Middle Ages.


Come and change your outlook on this period!