In the early 1500s, Antwerp briefly became one of the Western World’s main trade centers. “Up to 40% of the globe’s trade passed through Antwerp’s port, and along with silk from Turkey, peppercorns and diamonds from Africa and silver from America came immigrants and new ideas,” Newell-Hanson points out in her T Magazine article. “Although this golden age was short lived, it forged the city’s rich and enduring cultural life. The economic boom created a market for art, allowing for printing shops, coffee houses and guilds to form.”
It’s in this historic yet dynamic context that Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts came into being. Established in 1663 by David Teniers the Younger (painter to the Archduke Leopold Wilhelm and Don Juan of Austria), the academy is one of the oldest of its kind in Europe. “Its alumni, ranging from Vincent van Gogh (1885-86) to fashion designer Demna Gvasalia (2002-06), have continued to shape the world’s culture,” Newell-Hanson continues.