Right down the street from the Mayer Van den Bergh Museum, the Maagdenhuis is a small museum that is a poignant testimony to the fate of orphaned and abandoned children in Antwerp.
Founded in 1552, the Maagdenhuis girls orphanage remained open until 1882, when the children were moved to a more modern facility. It originally was built near a refuge for women who were in need of help or who were homeless. Today the original building houses an interesting collection of art and applied arts. These pieces of artwork were donated by wealthy patrons over the years and when the girls were moved to the new facility, the gifts remained in the old building and are now displayed for the public. We came here to see the Van Dyke and the Rubens paintings that the Maagdenhuis owns. This might in and of itself be enough to make the museum worthy of a visit, but what would make me want to come back are the many souvenirs and mementos of the children who have passed through the doors of this building when it was the Maagdenhuis.
This is a small museum; you get to visit several rooms that have the paintings and some beautiful furniture. What you don’t get to see are the rooms where the children would have been housed–too bad, as that would have been interesting. You can’t really get a feel from what you are shown. what their lives would have been like and what happened to them when they grew up.
The chapel has been converted into a museum to house the mementos of the actual orphanage. There is a case with 203 foundling tokens. These are often playing cards or religious images that have been given a jagged-cut edge. One half was kept by the mother and the other half was left with the baby. This way the mother could come back, and if they cards fit together, they could identify their child. How many were able to come back we will never know, but at least 203 didn’t. Other cases show the typical uniforms worn by the foundlings. Amid all these very emotional souvenirs, a beautiful case of faience seems almost out of place. It was lovely none the less.
Entrance is 3.00€. I had a very mixed reaction to this museum. First you see the obvious wealth of those who ran the home and then you see how very Spartan the lives of the foundlings were. A sad contrast indeed but very true to life as it was.