Iconographic documents

The subject matter of the iconographic documents of the collection of the National Bank falls into two categories.

A large number fits in seamlessly with the numismatic collection and illustrates the history of money, financial affairs and economic activities in Belgium. The other group consists of maps, plans and views of the most important Belgian cities. The collection consists of:



Memento Mori by Frans Francken the Younger

In the course of its history, the National Bank commissioned Belgian artists from time to time to embellish the walls and ceilings of the Governor’s Apartments, to paint a member of the royal family or a governor, or to design a new banknote. The result of these commissions is a limited collection of old paintings that fall into the category of official art. The National Bank also has a few paintings illustrating the subject of money or depicting the major Belgian cities.

In this painting (oil on copper, ca. 1635), Frans Francken the Younger (1581-1642) illustrates the very popular subject of “Memento mori” or, freely translated, “Remember that you are mortal”; no one escapes the dance, whether they be young or old, rich or poor.
Here, the last hour has struck for a rich old man and an elegant youth. An illustration of the transient nature of worldly possessions.


portrait of Eugène Anspach

It is a tradition of the National Bank to have a portrait painted of each of its ex-governors. By now the gallery consists of 20 canvases. This portrait of the fifth governor, Eugène Anspach (1888-1890), was painted by Herman Richir (1866-1942) and dates back to 1894.

This was not the only commission received by this artist from the National Bank. He also painted the portraits of Albert I and Elizabeth that hang in the Red Salon of the Governor’s Apartments at the Bank, and various preliminary designs for banknotes are also his work.


the Rue du Bois Sauvage in 1826

This panel by Pierre-François Poelman (1801-1826) gives an idea of what the Rue du Bois Sauvage in Brussels looked like in 1826.

The street underwent a complete metamorphosis when, in 1858, the National Bank bought five houses there and replaced them a few years later with a brand new bank building.

The National Bank’s Governor’s Apartments and Museum are the last remaining witnesses of that period.


refused design for a 100-franc note

Designing a new Belgian 100-franc note was never going to be easy. Joseph Stallaert (1825-1903) attempted it on paper, wood and, here, on canvas. His work ultimately failed, because the National Bank never used this design.

But Stallaert did have some success, in the Governor’s Apartments: he was responsible for the paintings which decorate the ceiling of the banqueting hall.




detailed study by Jean-François Freund

Today, banknotes are designed using a computer. The artists of former times set to work with pen, ink, paint and paper. Many drawings stopped at the preliminary draft stage and never reached the final stage. But the National Bank always kept all documents carefully. They also did this with plans and sketches from the architects who designed their buildings. Here, too, the collection is supplemented with a few drawings on the subject of money and some showing the major Belgian cities.

This pastel crayon drawing forms part of the substantial body of drafts and preliminary drafts of banknotes which the National Bank’s Printing Works transferred to the Museum a few years ago. This is a detailed study produced in 1917 by Jean-François Freund (1879-1968) for the so-called “National Series”.


the Vilvoorde lock in 1725

This wash pen and ink drawing, signed F.I. Derons, dated 1725, bears the inscription “Dit is de sas van vilvoorden ghenoemt de drij fontijnen 1725” (this is the Vilvoorde lock called the three fountains 1725). This artist was active from 1723 to at least 1760. He diligently portrayed chiefly the region between the Brussels-Vilvoorde canal and the Tervuren region. Often, drawings by Derons are the only witnesses remaining to us of landscapes and sites which have now disappeared.

The drawing forms part of the iconography concerning Brussels and its surroundings.


drawing of the Chateau of Wespelaar

The 19th century architect Henri Beyaert (1823-1894) put his signature to many drafts and plans. Nobody will be surprised to find that his drawings for the National Bank’s building in the Rue du Bois Sauvage in Brussels and for the Bank’s Antwerp branch form part of the Museum’s collection.

But the collection also contains many other originals of Beyaert’s works, such as this drawing of the Chateau of Wespelaar. This detail shows the wrought ironwork of the bridge at the entrance to the park.


the foundation of Tongres

Drawings and engravings often appear in books. This also applies to the pen-embellished drawing which, among other illustrations, adorns an anonymous early 17th century manuscript.

The manuscript is entitled “Brief traité recueilli hors de la grande chronique de la très renommée ville et cité de Liège”. It is a chronicle which gives a detailed description of the history of the prince-bishopric of Liège. The illustration shows the foundation of Tongres or Tongeren (Aduatuca Tungrorum), Belgium’s most ancient city.



the Brussels Stock Exchange around 1900

No picture says more than a good photograph. As well as portrait photos, the National Bank’s collection also contains photographs going back into its own past, photos of specific banking activities, of financial institutions at home and abroad, historical photos of the most important Belgian cities and documentary photos of modern fine arts on the subject of money in other museums in Belgium and abroad.

The National Bank’s collection contains a series of photographic documents representing financial institutions: banks, savings banks, stock exchanges, international institutions, etc. The Brussels Stock Exchange is one of these. This photo dates from the beginning of the 20th century, showing the stock exchange building and also giving a good idea of the milling crowd around the building. Other photos show the, sometimes feverish, activities inside.


François-Philippe de Haussy

The man posing here before the camera in Napoleonic posture is the first Governor of the National Bank, François-Philippe de Haussy (1850-1869). He was the head of the new national bank for 19 years and as time went on he proved to be the right man in the right place. By the time of his death, the National Bank had become an established and valuable part of the Belgian financial landscape. The photo is part of an album containing portraits of all the Bank’s high officials.


early photo of the National Bank’s Printing Works

Taking a look at old photos of the Bank can be particularly instructive. They tell us something about the development of the working conditions of its staff. Here the printers of the National Bank are seen standing by their machines towards the end of the 19th century. This photo is one of the oldest of the National Bank’s Printing Works.



screw press

screw press

The print gallery of the National Bank is the most important part of its iconographic collection. Every aspect of the subject of money is illustrated here: the manufacture of money, payment transactions, the exchange of money, poverty and wealth, thrift and extravagance, etc.

Entirely different, but nonetheless important are the engraved maps, plans and views of the various geographical entities of Belgium and the most important cities, i.e. those cities where the National Bank had a discounting office, agency or branch office.

The mechanisation of coin production had important consequences from the 18th century onwards for the productivity of the Mint and quality of the coins.

In their Encyclopédie (1751-1777), Diderot and d’Alembert give a detailed description of the first screw press, whose screw still had to be set in motion by human muscle power. This engraving gives us an accurate idea of how this work was done.


"La Belgique Industrielle" (Brussels, 1852)

After England, Belgium was the leading industrialised country in Europe. The series of engravings entitled “La Belgique Industrielle” (Brussels, 1852) highlights this pioneering role. Together with the Flemish textile industry, this series mainly illustrates the Walloon mining and metal industries.

This engraving, for instance, shows how the Cockerill furnaces at Seraing operated flat out day and night.



The two world wars seriously damaged the Belgian economy. The country had to be reconstructed on both occasions.

Major post-war awareness campaigns made saving a civic duty. Posters urged the public to subscribe to these government loans. The National Bank’s Museum possesses a few of these posters.



The National Bank has a modest collection of caricatures which make fun of bankers, stockbrokers, skinflints or spendthrifts. The caricature is also a powerful weapon for denouncing abuses in society at the time.

This one censures the overwhelming power of money over ordinary people. It appeared in 1902 on the cover of an issue of the French satirical periodical “L’Assiette au Beurre”.