Who was Dieric Bouts (circa 1410 – 1475)?
Dieric Bouts was one of the most influential Early Netherlandish painters. Together with Petrus Christus and Hugo van der Goes, Dieric Bouts built on the works of Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden.
Not much is known about Dieric Bouts’s early life. It is possible that he was born in the 1410s. It is also possible that he was born in Haarlem (in today’s Netherlands). But this was a note made by Karel van Mander much later in the 17th century and we do not know what the sources were. Records about Dieric Bouts only emerged in 1448 in Leuven, so it can be established that he was not born in Leuven.
In 1448, Dieric Bouts married the daughter of a wealthy patrician in Leuven named Catharina van der Brugghen. She was so rich, that her nickname was “Metten Gelde” (with money).
From this marriage, Dieric Bouts had four children. His two daughters ended up in convents. His eldest soon, also called Dieric (the Younger), took up his father’s craft until his early death in 1491. His younger son Aelbrecht did the same but painted in his own distinctive style that eventually influenced painting into the 16th century.
His most famous work which took him four years (1464-1467) to complete is definitely the Last Supper. With this work, Bouts wrote history together with Petrus Christus, as the first Early Netherlandish painters to demonstrate the use of a single vanishing point. The generation of painters before him, such as Jan van Eyck, did not know about the vanishing point, which was first used in Italy. Within half a century, the use of a single vanishing point became the standard technique of all painters in the Low Countries which ushered in the Renaissance Period.
It was in 1472, that Bouts was nominated as the city painter of Leuven. This came with the important task of maintaining and repairing the floats of the annual Ommegang parade.
After the death of Catharina on 28 June 1473, on 28 January 1474 Dieric Bouts married another rich woman, Elisabeth van Voshem. Elisabeth was the widow of a Leuven butcher Johannes van Thienen who inherited all of his many properties.
His second marriage did not last long as Bouts died the following year on 17 april 1475.
Dieric Bouts was buried beside his first wife in the church of the Franciscan monastery Minderbroederklooster next door. It was at least until the 17th century that the portraits of Bouts and his younger son Aelbrecht were hung in the church perhaps as an epitaph.
A big house with a vineyard
In the 15th century, Dieric Bouts and his family lived in the property on the Minderbroederstraat. We know that it would have been a big property because of the wealth of his wife Catharina van der Brugghen. We also know that the house did not only have a garden, but also a vineyard. Dieric Bouts had certainly produced all his works on the property as he had used his house also as a workshop.
Refuge of the Abdij van Park (circa 1480 – 1797)
But soon after the death of Bouts, the property became incorporated into the refuge house of the Norbertine “Abdij van Park” (Park Abbey) located outside Leuven.
It was common that abbeys used to own properties in the cities, which served as refuge houses in times of war and disorder, especially in the Middle Ages. In more peaceful times, these refuge houses serve as hotels for guests or living quarters of the abbey stewards. Important documents or valuable relics were often stored in these refuge houses, to prevent them from being looted should the abbey come under attack. Refuge houses likewise stored grain reserves at the end of every year.
The Park Abbey’s refuge in Leuven was located on a site between today’s Minderbroedersstraat, Parijsstraat and Pater Damiaanplein. The site was already mentioned in the year 1400 and records show that the heirs of Dieric Bouts sold their property in two phases to the abbey’s Abbot Van Tuldel. The abbot was in the midst of building the abbey’s city refuge house which would incorporate two of the four houses that the abbey had bought in the area. It has recently been discovered that today’s House of Eygen Heerd was indeed part of the refuge house building, which has helped to preserve its location.
In 1568, the Third Duke of Alva (1507 – 1582), also the Governor of the Royal Habsburg Netherlands (Belgica Regia), set up his headquarters in the Abdij van Park during the harsh religious and military repression that later became known as the Eighty Years’ War. The Norbertine friars – also known as the Premonstratensians – were forced to take up residence in Leuven in their refuge, where they remained for the next twenty years.
When the war finally ended in 1648 with the Peace of Münster, Abbot Libert De Pape undertook the last major building campaign of the refuge in 1660, when the Baroque complex reached its greatest size. Apart from the refuge house itself, the complex included the abbot’s quarters, a chapel, a bakery, a grain house, barn and stables, as well as a summer house in the backyard which was rented out. Feasts were held in the refuge complex a few times per year, and certainly during the annual fair of Leuven.
The entrance of the Norbertine refuge complex was an impressive monumental gate. All of this splendour, for a refuge house, was a big contrast to the Franciscan friars of the Minderbroederklooster across the street, who were known for their frugality, charity and piety.
However, peace was not long-lasting, even for religious compounds in the city and certainly not for a building as ostentatious as the Park Abbey refuge. The Norbertine refuge in Leuven was occupied by Habsburg troops from Spain in 1689 during the Nine Years’ War (1688–1697) against France, and then again in 1710 by French troops during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714). Just before Leuven fell to the revolutionary troops from France, the Park Abbey refuge was sold in several lots in 1794 in order to pay the war tax. After Leuven was occupied after the French invasion (1795-1797), the French occupiers evicted and sold all religious and education institutions including the remaining parts of the Park Abbey refuge.
The Return of the Jesuits
With the edict of the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, the Jesuits were expelled from the Habsburg Netherlands in 1773, and in Leuven, they were forced to leave behind their beautiful monastery and church that became the Sint-Michelskerk. But in the 19th century, they found their way back to Leuven by buying over properties left behind by the Franciscans of the Minderbroedersklooster and by the Norbertines of the Park Abbey refuge. Apart from the house which is now Eygen Heerd, the Jesuits founded a college along the Minderbroederstraat. But in 1950s, the Jesuits moved their operations to Heverlee in the outskirts of Leuven. The rest of the property became a nursing home called Dijlehof and the sports complex of the Sint-Pieterscollege.
The Schutteputhuis: The ties between the Park Abbey and the Longbowmen’s Guild
With so many owners changing hands and so many events that had happened, it was a miracle that the house at Number 5 Minderbroederstraat survived with many of its 17th century features preserved.
The house was for sure part of the home of Dieric Bouts before it was transferred to the Norbertine friars in the 1480s. But it was not considered a standalone unit, until the records in 1675-1719 called it the “Schutteputhuis“. The name literally means “shooters’ hole“, which could either refer to a modern fox hole or bowmen’s den.
Why was Dieric Bouts’s house called that? This could be traced back to the ties between the Park Abbey’s Norbertines friars and the longbowmen’s guild. Below is the extract from the recent reopening of the Abdij van Park after years of restoration.
“Vinkenbos is een gehucht aan de Geldenaaksebaan, dat loopt tot vlak onder de Leuvense stadsmuren. Dit gebied was het hart van de schenking van Godfried met de Baard aan de norbertijnen (1129). Recente archeologische opgravingen bewijzen het belang van deze wijk even buiten de Parkpoort, langs wat vroeger heette de baene van Heverlee naar Hoegaarden. De gemeenschap van norbertijnen bepaalde in Vinkenbos het sociale leven en de abt had er ook rechterlijke macht. Park had hier bijvoorbeeld sinds de 16e eeuw een handboogschuttersgilde met een eigen lokaal of gildehuis én met paters onder de leden. Regelmatig vonden er schutterswedstrijden en optochten plaats, tot diep in de 19e eeuw. Diverse keren per jaar trokken de Parkkanunniken en de bewoners zij aan zij in processie door de heerlijkheid en hielden ze halt bij de Sint-Annakapel, vooraan aan de abdijdreef.”
“Vinkenbos is a hamlet on the Geldenaaksebaan, which runs just outside the Leuven’s outer city walls. This area was a gift of Count of Leuven, Godfrey I (with the Beard) to the Norbertines in 1129. Recent archaeological excavations prove the importance of this area just outside the ‘Parkpoort‘ city gate, along what used to be called the road from Heverlee to Hoegaarden. The Norbertine friars determined social life in Vinkenbos and the abbot also had judicial power there. The Park Abbey ran a longbowmen’s guild here since the 16th century with its own guild house with also some friars among its members. Shooting competitions and parades took place regularly until well into the 19th century. Several times a year, the Park friars and the Vinkenbos residents walked side by side in procession through the seigneury until the Saint-Anne’s Chapel in front of the abbey lane.”
Eygen Heerd (is Goud Weerd)
In 1871, the “Schutteputhuis” was bought by Petrus-Paulus-Maria Alberdingk Thijm (1827-1904). Born in Amsterdam but became a naturalised Belgian, Alberdingk Thijm was then professor of Dutch literature at the University of Leuven and also a co-founder of the Davidsfonds. Davidsfonds was and is a Catholic organisation in Dutch-speaking region of Belgium with the purpose of promoting the Dutch-language culture in the areas of literature, history and art. With the “pillarization” (verzuiling) of Belgian society, Davidsfonds (Catholic) together with the Vermeylenfonds (socialist) and the Willemsfonds (liberal), the three foundations aim to promote a national Dutch-speaking identity resulting from the Flemish Movement.
The late medieval phrase “Eygen Heerd is Goud Weerd” was the personal motto of Alberdingk Thijm. It translates into “one’s own hearth is gold’s worth”, and it means “one’s own house and family is above everything else“. The house and family in this context refers to the independent nationhood of Dutch-speaking Belgians.
Apart from naming his house “Eygen Heerd“, Alberdingk Thijm was also obsessed with Gothic art. He carried out various neo-Gothic modifications in his house, which can still be seen today.
One year after his death in 1903, the house came into the possession of the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in 1946.
The Monumental Entrance of the Park Abbey Refuge
Actually, despite all the different parts of the Park Abbey Refuge being sold off after the French occupation, the monumental 17th century entrance of the Park Abbey refuge survived until the 1980s! In an archive image taken in 1979 which you can see below, the brick and sandstone Baroque facade rose six storeys high – which was considered a high rise building back then! Unfortunately, this had not been preserved and is now the Dijlehof nursing home just beside Eygen Heerd.
The Eygen Heerd now belongs to the KU Leuven, Leuven’s university. It is used as an office space.