The Maagdenhuis in Antwerp was a home for orphaned or abandoned girls from the 16th to the 19th century. The name comes from the Dutch word Maegdekens, meaning girls (similar to the German word Mädchen).

Today this historic building serves mainly as an art museum, but it also shows a reconstruction of a baby drawer that was in use in Antwerp from 1812 to 1860. This was where destitute or desperate mothers could anonymously deposit their new-born babies, knowing that they would be taken care of in the orphanage. (There is a similar baby drawer in the Clocher de la Charité in Lyon, France.)

Tokens used to reclaim the babies

All or most of the mothers hoped that someday they would be able to reclaim their children. For this reason they used tokens, which usually were irregularly cut playing cards or images of saints, tiles or letters. One part of the token was left with the baby and the other was retained by the mother. Later the two pieces could be fit together as proof that the baby was really hers.

The inner courtyard of the Maagdenhuismuseum

The artworks in the Maagdenhuismuseum come mainly from the art collection of the OCMW (social services agency) of Antwerp.

The Last Supper by Lambert Lombard (1506-1560)

One of the paintings on display is this somewhat irreverent view of The Last Supper by Lambert Lombard (1506-1560).

My photos in this post are from 2012. I revised the text in 2020.

See more posts on Antwerp, Belgium.

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