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Margaret of York and Margaret of Austria
Young princess Margaret of Austria, Anonymous, photo © Jochen Beye.
MECHELEN, BELGIUM.-Two women held sway in Mechelen five hundred years ago: Margaret of York and Margaret of Austria. Both ladies were widowed at an early age and went on to play an active role in European political and cultural life. They lived on the cusp of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the Old and the New World(s), bridging a whole host of seemingly incompatible human and world views, mentalities and realities.

Two women held sway in Mechelen five hundred years ago: Margaret of York and Margaret of Austria. Both ladies were widowed at an early age and went on to play an active role in European political and cultural life. They lived on the cusp of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the Old and the New World(s), bridging a whole host of seemingly incompatible human and world views, mentalities and realities. Their courts became halls of learning where young orphaned royals were prepared for ‘real’ life. For example, the youthful Charles, who later became emperor, grew up here under the care and protection of Margaret of Austria.

Scores of artists – such as Pierre de la Rue, Conrad Meit, Jan Gossaert ‘Mabuse’ and Bernard van Orley – worked at and for the court in Mechelen. Erasmus and Albrecht Dürer were among the many visitors. It became a meeting-place for music, visual art and literature, science and religion, as evidenced by the magnificent library stocked with manuscripts and printed books, the impressive portrait gallery, a whole host of religious works, splendid tapestries, a cabinet of curiosities including corals and luxury items from all over the world and the very first collection of exotica from the newly conquered Mexico. But who were these two Margarets? What concerned and interested them? How did they stand their ground in the complex, international power struggle and in what was very much a man’s world? When it came to the crunch, could they hold their own as women and act strategically in important matters of the succession and the family? What was their attitude to role models, paragons of femininity and their lot as widows? How did they express feelings of love, happiness and sorrow? What role did tradition, faith, learning and art play in their lives? Ladies of Distinction. Margaret of York and Margaret of Austria is constructed around these and other questions. This major exhibition takes the form of a complex and surprising quest, an encounter in which the two Margarets and the city of Mechelen play the lead roles. Ladies of Distinction. Margaret of York and Margaret of Austria promises to be the highlight of the exhibition calendar in Flanders this autumn! Some 170 objects from all over the world are converging on their former home in Mechelen for the occasion. Museums in Washington, Madrid, Vienna, Paris, London, Berlin, Nürnberg, etc., but also in Flanders and Brussels, are loaning their finest pieces. And the world-famous Iraqi-born architect Zaha Hadid has been commissioned to provide an original and contemporary exhibition setting for them. And what a location! 51N4E has produced a unique and innovative spatial concept for the former brewery. On this site the pulsating cultural heart of Mechelen will beat with a conference and heritage centre. In short, a location of distinction, the ideal place to make the acquaintance of Margaret of York and Margaret of Austria.

The future looks promising too: in 2006 LamotTM will be linked by means of a pedestrian tunnel to the trendiest part of the city, the Vismarkt (Fish Market). If you are just out for a brisk walk, you can stop off for a breather here, quench your thirst and have a bite to eat. LamotTM is the central point on the Dijle path, which runs straight through Mechelen.

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