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This is a place where the visitors are confronted with their search for a personal touch and where they have an opportunity to get acquainted with a skilled expert, who has turned durability and tradition into a personal passion.
I hope this will become a valued and rich source of inspiration and knowledge. Please Leave comments and enjoy your visit.

Friday, 2 June 2017

“De WARANDE” in Brussels | Ornamental wood carving carved on paneling | Hotel Empain a unique meeting place in the heart of Brussels.

De Warande in Brussels

“De WARANDE” in Brussels.
Hotel Empain a unique meeting place in the heart of Brussels.

In the characterful heart of Brussels, located between the embassies, on the edge of the park of Brussels, also known as the Warande Park, you will find the mansion ”De Warande”, a meeting place for Flemish entrepreneurs and their Belgium guests as well many international guests.
It was built at the end of the 18th century. At that time, it was known as Hotel Empain. Particularly beautiful and elegant, with decorated paneling (boiserie) interiors that enhance the residence. The diversity of style periods with their distinctive ornamentation that adorns the building, offers the opportunity to go deeper into the decoration of this beautiful meeting place in Brussels.

Manor House “De Warande”, Hotel Empain.

De Warande, an exclusive club.

De Warande is housed in the former Hotel Empain and 28 year ago it was specially set up and designed as a place where important Belgian people in Brussels could meet, in a discreet and casual atmosphere.

The life of wealthy people is often busy and stressful. In addition, our society is changing at a rapid pace. De Warande wants to be the Belium beacon to blend the social and professional activities seamless for her special members.
De Warande is a meeting place with many facets… Members can enjoy a gourmet top meal, plan meetings in one of the salons or connect with the intellectual group fed by a wide range of Warande’s activities.

De Warande wants to be an exclusive club that creates a first-class meeting place, with top-level service. With its stylish spaces and quality services, they try to offer each member a stimulating experience. As the management states, “We create a framework where leading Belgians can expand their network and horizons, on their own way”.

Members and their guest enjoy outstanding service and personal approach.

Orientation: De Warande in Brussels. (De red dot on the map).
De Warande Brussels with the beautiful monumental hall stairs.

The “De Warande” from my point of view.

In mid-2016, during my research work, I accidentally came across the website of “De Warande”, in which a particular photo drew my attention. A detail from a beautiful paneling from “The Lounge”, a beautiful composition with French influences was what struck me.
Because I am always looking for special and interesting blog items, I contacted the management of this club/meeting place to get information about the possibility to dedicate a blog item to “The Lounge”. I quickly received a positive response and I counted with their benevolent cooperation.

Information, texts, archive material was also available to me. In addition, I noticed that not only “The Lounge” is decorated with an elegant paneling, but other rooms of De Warande too. My curiosity for this beautiful place increased during the same week, when I had the appointment for a visit.

And that was why I went with one of my students of ornamental woodcarving, in the direction of Brussels in mid-july 2016.

De Warande is located in the royal district, on the corner of the Hertogenstraat and the Zinnerstraat. The latter does not really work more as a street, but rather as parking area for the members of De Warande. In the building complex on the side of Zinnerstraat, the US Embassy has also taken advantage of this “street”.

Yes… we should have expected this; after a security check of about 15 minutes, our entry was granted. The experience reminded me of a border control between East and West Berlin in 1983. For a bribery (in the border), a can of Coca-Cola or a package of Malboro did miracles then, but I had a vague suspicion that this would not be the case here and now.

We received a particularly warm reception from the Communications Manager of De Warende, Mr. Tijs Michiels. We visited several rooms where we felt at home, in an stylish environment where the almost natural beauty precents itself in a impressive way.

Here, the architecture offers the artist a medium in which he can meet nature to get inspired and invited exploring his/her creativity.

The arrangement and decoration of the interiors show that in the beginning of the last century (17th and 18th century) the old traditional ornamentation of the building was restored by some customer, designers and craftsmen. Not that this tradition has been lost, but for s short time is was displaced by a “modern style”.

 By that time, Brussels had won its famous of an Art Nouveau city, the city where this innovative architecture was created and was blooming. The Art Nouveau had its peak in 1907; and the traditional forces, that never slept on their laurels, once again took its place and got back under King Leopold II, who set the tone.

Paneling with ornaments (boiserie).

This historic building, located in the royal district of Brussels, has several remarkable wall panelings (wooden wall cladding or boiserie); lovers of elegant and high quality wood carving will not be disappointed. The diversity of styles will give me the opportunity to publish many blog entries in the future, about De Warande’s paneling and ornamentation.

The use of French decorative styles, the exuberance in ornamentation, the partitioning in the paneling and the composition of the carvings are very diverse and tastefully designed. One could use the interior of the Hotel Empain, executed with high skilled workmanship, as example for a lesson in “Architectural History of the Beautiful Styles”. Architectural aesthetics and art are a blast to the eyes.

De WARANDE in Brussels / Decorated panelings with ornaments.

The rooms:

The Empain salon is accessible from the hall stairs.  About 50 square meters of oak paneling worked by the Mechelse sculptor Frans Louis, shows different episodes of Jean d’Arc’s life. The piece is made in particularly high quality wood carving. An authentic Reinassance fireplace was sculptured in marble and is of Venetian origins.

Two sculpted columns with gold-leaf adorns the chimney mantel (trumeau) and shows the last supper. Certainly, an appropriate them for this dining room. The polychrome work is Italian and 17th century. At that time, it was a tradition to use authentic art pieces for the interior, together with newly designed decoration.

The club restaurant is formed by a few very cozy and intimate spaces that blend together, each one with its own decorative identity and a recognizable style period. The quality of the materials used and the skilled workmanship is also particularly high here. To the details of the finishing and the rich character of each part of the decoration, you will see that the customer was a man with the required specific knowledge, maintaining and keeping high standards.

In the small rooms, some of them with a low ceiling, you will find the finer decoration, composition and wood carving. This part of De Warande (Hotel Empain) provides a pleasant rest. Each room has its own style or style period with decoration with typical features. For example, there are 18th century Liege style, the Regence style, Louis XVI style, Empyre style (19th century) … but also compositions we can’t get our head around. Probably, the designer’s own creativity and/or personal wishes of the client have been given the preference or superiority, rather than strictly following the specific “style guidelines”.

The lounge, garden room, Salon Duke, Salon Arenberg... are the larger formal rooms and can be use by the member of De Warande, for parties, meetings or as a lunch room. Historically, these spaces served to impress the guests. You can see this in the decoration because they radiate wealth and power. The Salon Arenberg on the ground floor features an oak wood paneling with beautiful wood carving in French Regence Style.

De WARANDE in Brussels |
 Decorated paneling and paneling with ornaments.

The grand salon on the first floor, the Zinnerzaal, is opposite to the gallery and thus adjoins to the monumental stair hall. Here too, the oak paneling was carried out in Regence style. They reach to the ceilings; whose borders are decorated with stucco.

From the grand Salon, a double door has a view of the underlying little White Salon.

This is practically completed in a neo-Louis XVI style, the style of the royal square and some mansions in the park. It is also typical of the 18th century to create a “enfilade” of rooms. That is a series of contiguous rooms in one axis.

From this Grand Salon, you can see through the open doors into five other rooms.

sculpted mantelpiece

Hotel Empain, a unique meeting place in the heart of Brussels.

De WARANDE in Brussels |
 Decorated paneling and paneling with ornaments.

A few remarkable personal discoveries.

Because I am professional, engaged in the design and execution of ornaments in wood and the appropriate styles, over the years I have been able to compile a comprehensive archive; documents, old prints and books containing images of interiors, as well as recent reference books about furniture, interiors and castles. On top of that, the gypsum prints and study objects are a great source of inspiration, they hang from the wall of my wood carving studio.

But, the main source of inspiration is my own photo archive that I have being compiling for the last 30 years. Detail surveys of the application of ornaments that I have collected in museums, antique shows, private collections, private houses and castles. All style periods and the different applications of the ornamentation are included; not only in wood, but also in marble, stone, or bronze… Through this extensive archive, I have developed a bit of “a good visual memory” if it is about ornamentation.

It came to my attention that the furniture makers/ornament-maker who created the paneling in De Warande should also have been in possession of an extensive archive. I recognized a number of outstanding details in the paneling and doors, which could only be drawn / designed by people in possession of books and / or gypsum models of an old composition.

Below are some examples that support this finding.

Salle de Guerre, Versailles Castle, France.

Left, Salle de Guerre Versailles (FR), right De Warande showing the same motif in stone.

Rambouillet Castle, France.

Left, Rambouillet Castle (FR) / Right, same composition on a door.

Gypsum print of gypsum foundry, 
Art Museum and History in Brussels.

Museum of Art and Decoration, in Paris.

Museum of Art and Decoration, In Paris, B/W photo.

Translation, Lis Alvarado

Website De Warande 

Allow me to close this section of the “De Warande” interior observations. As I mentioned before, the diversity of different paneling and ornaments, it’s simple to much to grab it all in just a single blog entry.
I hope that you have been able to form a picture of De Warande, its atmosphere, the style periods and stylish rooms.
Below, you will find some of the moods and details of the paneling with ornaments that may be useful.

 Ornamental wood carving carved on paneling

De WARANDE in Brussels | Hotel Empain.
Carved paneling

“De WARANDE” in Brussels

De WARANDE in Brussels / Hotel Empain.

De WARANDE in Brussels / Hotel Empain.


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Friday, 5 May 2017

A Bas-Relief of Saint Martin of Tours Carved in Wood | Bas-relief carving | The City of Zaltbommel | Bas-relief carving | Bas-Relief in wood

 Bas-Relief of Saint Martin of Tours Carved in Wood

A Bas-Relief of Saint Martin of Tours Carved in Wood
A low-relief or bas-relief is a sculpting method which is characterized by a rather shallow representation of the image. Usually the image or subject has been flattened substantially. As a result it only appears realistic when viewed from the front. The side view of a bas-relief renders a significantly distorted image.

First, a rough sketch is made. The origin or source of the drawing can be based on an original panel, provided that any inaccuracies or imperfections are modified. The design can also originate from a personal expression, while of course staying true to the original “spirit” of the design. The internet often serves as a great source of inspiration and guidance.

Upon refinement, the final drawing is copied onto tracing paper, which is then applied to the wood with thumbnails. By making use of carbon paper and a scriber the drawing is transferred to the wood. The image of the bas-relief is now present on the wooden panel.

Bas-relief carving | Bas-Relief in wood

The wood carver uses a router to remove any wood surrounding the image, thus creating a work plane or work field.

The actual wood carving can now begin. This phase is called “modelling”. Many years of training, diligence and fulltime experience are of vital importance to master this technique.
The importance of the routing work now becomes apparent. During the modelling phase the original drawing of the image gradually disappears. During this step the drawing or pattern is reapplied to the wooden panel by means of a scriber or marking tool.

Bas-relief carving | Bas-Relief in wood

The lines and markings left by the marking tool are now chiseled of. The contours or outline of the pattern slowly starts to appear. In this phase the chisels act as drawing instruments. It is important not to carve too deep, i.e. to the base (of the relief), so that it is always possible to make (minor) changes to the relief.
The panel is now finished and can be returned to the cabinet-maker (joiner), so it can be integrated into the wooden mantelpiece.

 Bas-Relief of Saint Martin of Tours Carved in Wood

Saint Martin of Tours – A Brief History

Saint Martin is a well-known saint. Many places and churches have been named in his honor. Maybe you know one or two? Martin (Latin: Martinus), meaning “little Mars” (The Roman God of war) was born in 316 AD. During that time emperor Constantine had just converted to Christianity. Christians were therefore no longer persecuted. Saint Martin is generally regarded as the first saint who did not die a martyr.
When Martin was 15 years old he joined the army. He became a Roman legionnaire. He had to because his father was a regular soldier in the Roman army too. At that time a son had to follow in his father’s footsteps. However, Martin turned out to be quite an exceptional legionnaire. He was different from the others. He was patient and modest, helped the sick, and gave everything he didn’t need to the poor and needy.
One day something truly remarkable happened. Something people still mention to this day. This story is recounted in old books about the life of Saint Martin. At the time these types of books were true bestsellers. They served as a source of inspiration for countless stories, songs and plays. It was winter and it was freezing cold. Many people had frozen to death, especially the poor.
Martin saw a beggar sitting at the city gate. The man was cold as he was only wearing thin, ragged clothes. Yet, everyone walked passed him, and offered only lame excuses. They did not have any money, their purse was tucked away too far beneath their clothes, or they were late for a meeting. It was bitterly cold and everyone was in a hurry to get home. Martin was on his way home as well, and he too did not have anything to offer, or did he?
He had no money. He did, however, carry his sword with him, and he was wearing a warm army overcoat. Suddenly, he did something unusual. He used his sword to cut his coat in two, upon which he gave one part to the beggar. He reckoned a coat this size could easily keep two people warm. He could have also simply given the whole coat. However, as these overcoats were very expensive, the army agreed to pay half of it. You can’t give away what is not yours to give! Saint Martin died in 398, not in his monastery (just outside of Tours, France), but in Candes, a small place in his bishopric. His grave is located in Tours.

A Bas-Relief of Saint Martin of Tours Carved in Wood
 Bas-relief carving

This small bas-relief was carved in mahogany wood. The relief has a depth of 8mm and the panel will be integrated into a wooden mantelpiece, alongside two other panels, that represent the coat of arms of the town of Zaltbommel (NL); an old version of 1816 and a more recent rendition from 2001. (The dimensions of this miniature carving are 12x8 cm)
The mantelpiece is made out of pitch pine. These heraldic panels will be tastefully integrated into this mantelpiece, after which it will painted in a light color (probably off-white). Only the center panel with the bas-relief of Saint Martin will retain its original mahogany wood color (apart from some furniture wax), making it a real eye-catcher!
The customer, a Zaltbommel resident (NL), choose this particular bas-relief because Saint Martin is the patron saint of the Zaltbommel basilica (Dutch: Grote of St. Maartenskerk). This large basilica, located in the center of Zaltbommel, has a three-aisled nave and a one-aisled choir. Construction started around 1450 and the building was completed in 1500.

The City of Zaltbommel coat of arms in wood

The City of Zaltbommel (NL) coat of arms in wood

This miniature low-relief panel clearly depicts Saint Martin of Tours, sword in hand, cutting of a piece of his coat to give to the beggar. (I couldn’t resist to attach a purse to his belt.)
I also carved the coat of arms of Zaltbommel on his shield.
(Dimensions: 15x15 cm; depth relief: 8mm)

Translation Koen Verhees


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