Autumn is a mellow time of looking back and looking forward and that’s exactly what the Flemish Belgian city of Leuven is doing, from 20 October 2023 to 14 January 2024, with the New Horizons | Dieric Bouts Festival. This citywide four-month-long event takes inspiration from the legacy of Dieric Bouts.
Bouts, Flemish master
Bouts, who settled in Leuven, is a huge figure in the international art scene, one of the first Flemish masters to employ vanishing point perspective. He enjoyed patronage from the region’s elite, often painting them – and, it’s thought, himself – into his work. He was successful in his day and ran a large workshop creating artworks-on-demand such as his Last Supper – yes, some three decades before Leonardo da Vinci’s version.
At the museum…
To celebrate one of Leuven’s most famous artists then, the city has put together a four-month event calendar full of culture, both at M Leuven and beyond the walls of the art museum, proving that Bouts still has plenty to reveal about what it means to be an artist and be alive, in his time and ours.
At M Leuven, a stunning collection of Bouts pieces has been curated, the largest single bringing together of his work ever, with loans from several important international museums, including the Louvre, Amsterdam’s Rijksmueum, and London’s National Gallery.
Tracing the development of the artist’s work and setting it alongside today’s living “image makers”, such as sports photographers, filmmakers and game developers, the exhibition invites us to see Bouts differently – as a paid content creator of his time.
A joint ticket for Bouts at M Leuven and another show entitled “(Un)chained Knowledge” is available. Hosted by the University Library, it explores how issues like fake news, censorship and deciphering authoritative knowledge were problems even back in Bouts’ time. The city’s gobsmackingly gothic Town Hall is taking part too.
Meanwhile, out among the beautiful cobbled streets of Leuven, you’ll find an information and photo scavenger hunt. Starting at Bouts house on Minderbroedersstraat, a 3.5 km trail takes you to the places the artist might have known and frequented, telling stories about his life and times and even offering you a prize if you “collect” all the treasure. This offering is in Dutch only, so a good opportunity to practice your language skills.
And don’t miss the gigantic Bouts-inspired street art by world-renowned 3D street art and augmented reality artist Leon Keer. For the full 3D AR effect, download the Leon Keer app.
Around the table
Just as Bouts drew the viewer into the dining experience around the sacramental table, the festival’s Bouts on your Plate invites visitors to partake of a Bouts food crawl around the city, into eateries serving up intriguing modern versions of fifteenth century favourites.
A city “food historian” has helped to inspire a fifteenth century style wheat beer with local brewery Hof ten Dormaal, as well as workshopping with chefs and foodies across the city’s food scene to tantalise your tastebuds with the spice flavours and unusual combinations Bouts and his contemporaries might have enjoyed.
I could have eaten my bodyweight in Bouts-themed cheese, brined in Bouts beer at Elsen Kaasambacht, a beloved cheesemonger in attractive Mechelsestraat in the city centre. Or why not try delicious pear, sultana and salmon turnovers at De Walvis fishmonger and caterer? Zuut on the Vismarkt is serving an incredible Bouts-inspired cheesecake with white chocolate; and Bar Jérome has dreamed up a quiche with slow-cooked lamb that you can wash down with a Bouts beer.
In your ears
In December, two weekends of gigs also form part of the festival line up, with “spacious live shows, intimate listening sessions in the dark, and a 4D club night”, presented at STUK, a House for Dance, Image and Sound.
Created by 4DSOUND, the events mirror Bouts’ innovative approach to perspective, opening up new audio experiences, from old-school stereo to four-dimensional listening.
Bear in mind, this is not a definitive list of all the New Horizons Festival food offerings or events, so remember to check out the website.
And if you’re thinking of an autumn weekend getaway, Visit Leuven has a great selection of places to stay, including overnight Bouts packages specially conceived with the festival in mind.