Architecture moment: Town Hall, Leuven, Belgium
There was a great deal of building during the 14th-16th century in Flanders, much of it elaborate, due to the great wealth of the region. However, the churches of late medieval Flanders closely imitated those of France (rather than the more interesting architecture of Germany to the east or England to the west), and largely are uninteresting. The secular architecture of Flanders has considerably more interest – the towns of Flanders wished to announce their wealth and status by building extremely fine town halls, guildhouses, hospitals, belfries and other structures. These structures were also designed to host the court of the nominal prince over the region – the dukes of Burgundy, with whom the leading towns often had very strained relations. Thus, these structures were partially designed to impress upon the ducal court that the towns were well organized and well provisioned to fight against him, if need be. The ducal court of Burgundy (and various neighboring lesser princes closely imitated them) had extremely fine artistic taste – it was the patron of such artists as Van Eyck, Roger van der Weyden, the composer Dufay, the sculptor Claus Sluter, the historian Froissart and many others, it’s only rival the most fine princely courts of Italy for artistic patronage. Later, the towns had similar relations with the Hapsburgs, who were great patrons of the arts as well. Leuven in particular was often visited by such dignitaries.
The Leuven Town Hall is a lush and extreme example of these town halls. Four stories high of sandstone, the exterior is literally dripping with 236 statues and elaborate decorations. These statues represent a highly complex scheme of religious and political history (as befitting a university town): political figures from the town’s history, saints, historic feudal overlords and religious scenes are all depicted on the town hall walls. Note: most of the actual statues are from the late Nineteenth century, but follow along the lines of the original scheme.
The town hall was constructed from 1448-1469 by the prominent architect Matheus de Layens, who also designed Leuven’s town fortifications, the principal church of Leuven, a number of other churches in Flanders and later the very fine but more spare town hall of Mons.