An eventful past
The predecessor to the current castle was built in the thirteenth century as part of the wider line of defence to protect Brussels. Over the centuries that followed, the castle was repeatedly devastated and rebuilt. The function of the castle evolved in this period from a strategic stronghold to a summer residence and a country estate. The castle was occupied by a succession of noble families. Lamoraal, Count of Egmond, was one of the chateau’s best-known owners. In the late eighteenth century, the castle became the property of the Italian aristocratic Arconati Visconti family. Gaasbeek Castle became a meeting place for scholars and artists.
A castle in Romantic neo-style
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, Marchioness Arconati Visconti – the last owner – decided to undertake a major conversion of the castle. She refurbished the castle as a museum to billet her huge art collection, creating a veritable time capsule that enabled her to relive the past.
The restoration by architect Charle-Albert did not so much aim to restore the castle to a perceived ‘original condition’, which would have been entirely in keeping with the idealising nineteenth century views on heritage conservation. The façade should look as ‘old’ possible to hit home the character of the medieval fortress, which involved adding turrets, embrasures and merlons. A very different style was adopted for the interior of the castle: the Neo-Renaissance style, after the Marchioness’ favourite era. Indoors, a historicising decor was created where original art and antiquities were supplemented with copies. The Marchioness had her comfortable private apartment decked out in Neo-Rococo style.
In 1921, the Marchioness gifted the castle to the Belgian State. Three years later, the castle reopened as a museum.