Heritage Day at Maagdenhuis: about orphans under the hood, artifacts and artifacts from the Baroque (Antwerp)

Heritage Day is sometimes confused with Heritage Day, which falls on September 11 this year. While the latter focuses on immovable heritage (buildings and landscapes), Heritage Day revolves around mobile cultural heritage (eg art) and intangible cultural heritage such as stories and music.

Maagdenhuis falls under both categories. Some parts of the building, for example, date from the 15th century, while it also houses paintings by Peter Paul Rubens, Jacob Jordan and Anton van Dyck, among others. Then there is the history of the orphanage for girls, which is of great interest in the museum.

bastard playing cards

The orphanage had a capacity of about two hundred people and was co-founded around 1680 by the granddaughter of Gilbert van Schönbeck, Antwerp’s wealthiest merchant. The man himself was not exactly a benefactor: he was said to have given two nickels to beggars all his life. In 1880 the building was old and was closed. The orphanage moved to Albert Grisartstraat in Berchem.

Back then, girls who were either abandoned or had fathers who couldn’t take care of themselves ended up there. “Often the mother would cut the playing card in half. She kept one half and left the other with the newborn. That way, she could still claim her child later, if conditions were better,” says Gerrit van Dyck of Maagdenhuis.

Gerrit Van Dyck works with washboard and sink © Jan van der Berry

show off

On Sundays in the courtyard, people could learn about the crafts that the girls had to learn through the workshops. This ranged from making the ink yourself, cutting goose feathers and using it to write about embroidery, to washing clothes the old-fashioned way, in a zinc basin and washboard. “On your knees and on the gravel. People are allowed to bring their own clothes,” Gerrit laughs. “Handcrafts such as embroidery or shuttle lace were very important, because if a girl was skilled at it, she could easily find a job with a wealthy family in Antwerp. Before that, they worked with the so-called brand and show hits. This was largely their resume. “.

“Show” in which orphan girls showed their skills, biographical as it were. © RR

on the knees

Elsewhere on Sunday, people could take a test on house rules from 1816. It turns out that’s pretty strict. Waking up at five in the morning was the worst. Moreover, the girls had to “subject” to mistresses. There were various punishments for bad behavior: ranging from sitting on one’s knees for a certain period, “past confinement designated for this purpose” or wearing a “fool’s hat”. Skipping a meal was an option, too. If all this does not help, the girl can be thrown out on the street.

Orphanage in Zimbabwe

Simone Dewinter (79) and her daughter Magali Shroll (42) from Merksem joined the audition. The latter has a special interest in the history of the Maagdenhuis. She herself has been active for many years as a volunteer in a Christian orphanage in Zimbabwe. “I am a childcare provider and I started bottle feeding and teaching there. In the meantime, I am mainly involved in following the young people who have left the orphanage and are now looking for their own way.”

Magali Shroll and her mum Simone Dewinter came to have a look.  In the background the work of Jacob Jordan.

Magali Shroll and her mum Simone Dewinter came to have a look. In the background the work of Jacob Jordan. © Jan van der Berry

“Maagdenhuis regulations seem rather strict to me. No child will be locked up in Zimbabwe. Discipline is very important though. Children wear a uniform and if they misbehave they may have to skip lunch as punishment. But in case of problems we want to speak Or not “.

Jan Vermetten runs from the server house a test.  In the background is a rare painting of an orphanage for girls.

Jan Vermetten runs from the server house a test. In the background is a rare painting of an orphanage for girls. © Jan van der Berry

Mr. Fermetin

Suddenly the bell rang. In the church, the strict headmaster Jan Vermten begins his lesson on the daily life of orphans at Magdenhaus, including an audition. Participants pressed on desks that were old and uncomfortable and went to work. “I put these two bad boys on top so I could easily pull their ears when they’re cheating,” it sounded ominous.

“Mr. Vermein did not actually work in Maagdenhuis. At the end of the 19th century, he was the first permanent teacher at Knechtjeshuis in Bardenmarkt, where orphaned boys were cared for,” says Dirk Kent, who took over the role of Jan Vermten on Sundays.

Magali and Simon.  do not cheat!

Magali and Simon. do not cheat! © Jan van der Berry

Lesson for girls

Regarding education, there was a significant difference between boys and girls. “In Knechtjeshuis a master was appointed full-time, while in Maagdenhuis two came to visit at irregular times. They were paid after only two hours of teaching. The fact that the girls could read and write a little was a bonus, but above all they had to learn the trade. But Everyone worked for long days.”

And how strict is Mr. Vermeitin? “We don’t know it very well. He may have kept it under control, but the only thing I know is an incident in which a boy in 1878 secretly smelted bullets in a butler’s house and ended up with a drop of things in the eye of another orphan, with all the ensuing consequences. Which. Then Fermetin kicked him out that boy in the street. But that doesn’t seem too strict to me, does it?”

Gerrit van Dijk concludes, “It is so nice that the Magdenho family is once again participating in Heritage Day. After all, we have so much to say. It is such a shame that no one brings their clothes today…” Maple

© Jan van der Berry

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