Claire Derriks
Curator Emeritus, Royal Museum of Mariemont (Belgium)


How to introduce new audiences to past histories and cultural heritage through a portrait of Queen Mary of Hungary who played a key role during the 16th century? This was the challenge facing the Royal Museum of Mariemont (1994) who worked in cooperation with the House of Arts and Social Patrimonium, an organisation which works with women on welfare through the Public Center of Social Help of Morlanwelz (Belgium). It was a pedagogic project for social reinsertion through art study and local heritage. The project worked to recreate the opulent gown which appears in the 1520 portrait by Hans Maler.




Mary of Hungary (1505-1558), widow of King Louis II of Hungary, was the sister of Emperor Charles V. In 1531, Charles V designated her as General Governor of the Northern Provinces of his empire. In 1545, the architect Jacques Dubreucq was asked to build a renaissance style palace at Binche (Belgium). The castle was completed to welcome Charles V and his son Philippe in August 1549. Five years after the emperor’s visit the troops of Henri II, king of France, burned the castle.

Mary of Hungary was very fond of hunting, so she also ordered a hunting near Binche. She called the place the mount of Mary, Mariemont. The ostentatious court life of these castles is the starting point of the history of Mariemont.


This experiment, centred around Mary of Hungary, was designed and carried out by advisors in cooperation with the educational service of the Royal Museum of Mariemont. The goal was to initiate a project introducing people to past societies and to the history of the province of Henegow.


The training program contained a theoretical approach and a practical realization. Teachers and students/trainees explored history of art, philosophy, religious ideologies and especially historic handicrafts. After ‘seeing’ comes ‘doing’, and the students were invited to take part in a second stage, a practical workshop such as calligraphy, drawing, textile, fashion design, leather, glass engraving etc. The project’s duration was five days a week over about two years.


One of the workshops focused on the portrait of Mary of Hungary (1505-1558). Studying the portrait raised the interest of a target group of women in painting techiques, appreciation of the aesthetic dimension and details of 16th century dress and jewellery, as well as exploring approaches to history. Students learned to express their observations and thoughts.

The Queen’s dress is representative of a queen who played an important role in the local history of the 16th century. To understand it, it was necessary to study the costumes of the Emperor’s court in searching for other documents representing Mary of Hungary: statues, paintings, prints, etc.; These additional sources helped in creating a pattern under the direction of a Belgian designer (Françoise Marion) and in recreating the dress itself. It was later presented during a show at the museum.



The experiences of working with this target group had unexpected results which were analysed by Marie Coppens (Master presented at IHECS, Institut des Hautes Etudes des Communications Sociales, Brussels). The benefit of the process was obvious on professional, social and personal levels. The general conclusion appeared: culture is a passport to help getting out of social isolation.

People dependent on welfare (CPAS) felt invigorated and involved with society by studying art. Additionally their image of culture, museum and themselves was demystified.


Further reading

Website for Royal Museum of Mariemont

Information about Jacques Du Brœucq

S. Glotz, De Marie de Hongrie aux Gilles de Binche. Une double réalité, historique et mythique. Introduction critique aux ‘Triomphes’ de Binche célébrés du 22 au 31 août 1549, in Revue de la Société d'archéologie et des Amis du Musée de Binche, 13, 1995, p. 7-47;

Article about the town of Binche

Article about exhibition at Royal Museum of Mariemont

M.-C. Bruwier, ‘Le Musée royal de Mariemont, une ressource pour l’éducation des adultes et la réinsertion social’, in Dans la force de l’art. Réalisations de la Maison des Arts et du Patrimoine social, Morlanwelz, 2001.

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