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Antwerp's Diva: Art, Industry and Wealth


Diva—that's its name, not an acronym—is often referred to on tourism sites and the like as a 'diamond museum,' and so that is what we expected. But that's only part of this fascinating museum.


It would be fairer to call it a museum of Antwerp's history told through the luxury goods its industries created and its wealthier inhabitants draped themselves with. It's a stunning collection of brilliant pieces, and what we see is only part of what it has.

P1210097P1210092P1210099Exhibits include advice on how to cut a diamond and a display of the tools needed to do it, as well as an animated map of where they come from

Diva—the name is meant to suggest an exciting and demanding personality—opened just off Antwerp's waterfront in 2018, in a modern building with a 15th-century facade. It was created by merging two local museums that had closed: the Antwerp Diamond Museum and the province's museum of Flemish silverwork.


It seems difficult to understand how Antwerp's original diamond museum could have closed in a city that handles 84% of the world's uncut diamonds and a fair share of the cut ones; a worker at the museum suggested to me that the old museum just didn't know how to market itself. Perhaps that's true, but Diva certainly knows how to draw attention to itself.


While the museum has exhibits about diamond cutting and mining, that's really not its focus; it's the history of Antwerp and the role these industries have played in the city for centuries.


And we find that life in old Antwerp was not all serious work; for a rich patron, a silversmith created this device in 1603. The blades on the back of the windup 'clock' would spin and the whole clock turn on its base. Players had until the blades stopped to drink a cup of wine. If they hadn't finished, the dial of the 'clock' told how many extra cups the loser had to drink.


Some more recent luxury items are in Diva's collection, too, including this highly-decorated gramophone and diamond-encrusted tennis racket.


A range of smaller exhibits, including some jewelry, is in pullout drawers and other spaces in a simulated vault.


And, just a few more samples of the wealth on hand...



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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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