Back - List of Pavilions

Belgium - Expo Paris 1878

Belgium at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1878

The Belgian façade is splendid, in our opinion. We will give, according to the rule we have imposed on ourselves, the opinion of others alongside our own, so that we cannot be accused of partiality.

Belgium, says one of our colleagues, occupies an area of 9,850 metres at the Champ de Mars; this is the largest expanse of land granted to a foreign nation after Great Britain; it is much more than its proportional share, if we consider only the territorial extent of this small country, and it is scarcely what was rightfully hers if we consider the considerable place it holds in industry and commerce in general, in the arts and also in the sciences.
Let us add that one would have to go to China to find such an agglomeration of inhabitants on such a limited territory.

For its façade, Belgium has built a palace in the Flemish Renaissance style, based on the designs of Mr. Emile Janlet. This is the style in which the Jesuit church and Rubens' house in Antwerp, for example, were built; but it is more than just a reminiscence, for it is also in this style that people are building everywhere in Belgium's major cities today.

This palace is not only a splendid piece of architecture, a faithful specimen of a style that can certainly be criticized, but that Mr. Janlet was not free to modify to his whim, it is at the same time, by an ingenious arrangement of the various stones of which it is built, a true exhibition of the incomparable riches of the quarries of Belgium. Here are his mixed grey marbles from Hainaut, his black marbles from Namur, red and brown marbles, white stone from Cobertange, granites from Herbes, stones from Soignies, Ourthe, Tournai, Écaussines, bricks from Marialmé, slates from Herbeumont, etc., all artfully put together and presenting the appearance of a vast mosaic. Inscriptions on the base indicate the respective origins of all these materials.

Mr. Charles Blanc states the following:
"The architecture of Belgium wanted to distinguish itself and it succeeded; however, its originality is only shown by the diversity and beauty of the materials. Belgium has rich marble quarries. In Hainaut it has mixed grey marbles, called Sainte-Anne; it has black marbles in the vicinity of Namur; it also has brown breccias, red marbles, and that small granite which is called Flanders granite.

"These various materials have been very skilfully used in the Champ de Mars, in the magnificent specimen that the Belgians give us of their architecture.

"This art, remarkable for its solidity, the excellence of the apparatus and the reasoned use of materials, also has all the defects of the Renaissance.

"Everywhere there are tormented profiles, everywhere there are bosses.

"The keystones of the arches are alternately set in relief; the surfaces are divided, shaken, torn in the Tuscan style, and to this movement produced by the inward and outward movements of the construction is added the variety of colours resulting from the difference in materials: brick, white stone, grey granite, black marble. And that's not all: loggias, galleries, balconies, balustrades, multiplying the play of shadows; broken pediments, offering the ridiculous image of a roof that has opened to let a bust, a vase or a bilboquet pass through; cornices violated by bad taste scrolls, acroteria that have no reason to exist and which, when small obelisks are used, recall the image of a game of skittles, and finally, sheathed caryatids: These are the characteristics of the architecture that the Renaissance, passing from Italy to Flanders, gave pride of place there in the 17th century, and whose style seems to be preferred today in Belgium.

"This style is none other than that in which the house of Rubens in Antwerp, the Jesuit church in the same city, and in general the churches built by the Society of Jesus in Germany, Italy, France, Coblentz, Cologne, Dusseldorf, Venice, Rome, Naples, Paris, and a thousand other places were built.

©Les Merveilles de l'Exposition de 1878