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Museum focus: Witches avant la lettre

From 26 October 2021
to 08 May 2022

This event has passed.


Start: 26 October 2021 - 09:00
End: 08 May 2022 - 16:00



Free – €11


From 26 October onwards, the KBR museum will present a new selection of manuscripts from the library of the Dukes of Burgundy, as well as a thematic focus entitled “Witches avant la lettre”. Because as it turns out, the cliché of the medieval witch doesn’t exist at all.

By viewing the manuscripts that are part of the focus, you will discover what being a woman actually meant in our regions at the end of the 15th century. From the Virgin Mary to mermaids.

The thematic focus is included in your ticket to the KBR museum. On your arrival at the museum, you will receive a brochure explaining the pieces that form part of “Witches avant la lettre”.

Buy your ticket



No witch hunts in the medieval period

Contrary to popular belief, no systematic witch hunts took place during the Middle Ages. The figure of the “wicked witch” only emerged at the end of the 15th century, as a result of publications on demonology. Those publications would ultimately ensure that witchcraft was eradicated in Europe.

Gradually, the church’s fear of satanic activity increased, along with its desire to convict all those suspected of involvement in it. In the 16th and 17th centuries, this led to a flood of court cases, during which the lives of thousands of women were put at risk.



A nuanced image of women

The Burgundian manuscript collection contains a wealth of precious miniatures and stories. Some of the stories are rooted in the imagination, while others actually show the reality of everyday life.

In short, the collection offers an ideal panorama of what “being a woman” meant back in the 15th century, in the period before the dizzying increase in the number of judgments handed down for witchcraft.


Saint or mermaid?

From saints and beguines to sibyls, mermaids, Joan of Arc, the Virgin Mary, Christine de Pizan, craftswomen and female miniaturists – discover the many facets of womanhood in the period just before the advent of the witch hunt.

Some thirty manuscripts will allow you to discover how these “witches avant la lettre” fared. Amongst other things, the miniatures show activities that would later be condemned as witchcraft and therefore could no longer be performed by women.



The Middle Ages: surprisingly topical

The manuscripts paint a portrait of what life was like at the end of the Middle Ages. The picture? Nuanced, often playful and, surprisingly, very much in tune with today’s issues on the subject of gender.

A series of lectures will put the stereotypes still associated with the figure of the witch into perspective.

To the lectures



With the support of the Brussels-Capital Region and visit.brussels.