Humming of bees in the museum  Share

In the next few years the National Bank building, dating from the 19th century, will undergo a major transformation. As a result, the museum is being temporarily housed in the Bank’s modern building at boulevard de Berlaimont. One of the buildings was constructed about a hundred years earlier than the other, yet they have some notable similarities. To show you, we have dusted off two groups of sculptures and given them a prominent place in the museum. As you contemplate these sculptures, there is a good chance that you will hear the humming of bees …
The first sculpture which is now among the pieces on display in the museum comes from the Bank’s first building and dates from the second half of the 19th century. It stood on the street side of the Bank’s building in the extension to a majestic staircase, as you can see from a photo from those days.


Photo of the sculpture in situ

Unfortunately, the artist is unknown but he worked under the direction of Henri Beyaert. In the centre we can see a beehive with two chubby children or cherubs, one on either side. One of the children holds a hammer in his hand, the other a full purse. The symbolism of the piece is very clear from these attributes together with the busy bees: hard work pays.


Photo of the sculpture in the museum

The second piece, which has now been installed on the walls of the museum, comprises plaster copies of three motifs from the north and south facades of the Bank’s building. Like the building itself, they date from the mid-20th century. They were made by the sculptor and medal designer Marcel Rau (1886-1966) who worked closely with the architect Marcel Van Goethem.


Photo of the tokens in situ

The walls display a total of 56 tokens which together symbolise economic life. Marcel Rau took his inspiration from the merrills or tokens that artisans used in the Middle Ages. Each motif refers to a specific activity. The three copies in the museum refer to trade, architecture and – of course – bee-keeping. In the mid-20th century bees still retained their symbolic value, only the environment is now very different: here, there is no longer any elaborate or excessive ornamentation but a plainer, more restrained design in harmony with the architectural style.


Photo of the three tokens displayed in the museum

If you would like to learn more about bee symbolism in art and architecture, see: Paul ADRIAENSEN, Iconografie van de honingbij in de Lage landen. Bijenkunst en bijensymboliek in het straatbeeld en toegankelijke gebouwen, Maklu, Antwerp and Apeldoorn, 1998.