Utopia by Sir Thomas More
Celebrating its 500th anniversary

The quincentenary of its publication inspires Leuven (Belgium) to organise a major city festival and international exhibition.

©Hans Holbein the Younger, Portrait of Sir Thomas More, 1527. National Portrait Gallery, Londen


2016 marks exactly 500 years since the English humanist and statesman Thomas More published in the city Leuven his world-famous book Utopia. Leuven is celebrating this milestone with a major city festival featuring exhibitions, street art, film, music, theatre, dance, literature, lectures and city walks. The cornerstone is the international, art historical exhibition ‘In Search of Utopia’ at M – Museum Leuven.

Major Exhibition at M – Museum Leuven 20th October 2016 to 17th January 2017

The cornerstone of the festival is the prestigiousinternational loan exhibition ‘In Search of Utopia’ at M – Museum Leuven. Visitors will meet Thomas More and his friends, the ideals and fantasies that inspired the minds of artists, the desire for searching out distant horizons, and the new web of science that was gradually being woven across reality.

Exceptional artworks by 15th- and 16th-century Flemish masters such as Jan Gossaert, Quinten Metsys and Simon Bening will be brought together in an exciting and intriguing tale about the search for and dreams about the ideal world. Works by other masters of the Northern Renaissance such as Hans Holbein and Albrecht Dürer will also be present in the exhibition. The masterpieces include unique paintings, miniatures, tapestries and astronomical instruments that will be presented together for the very first time. Prof. Dr. Jan Van der Stock (University of Leuven), who was previously responsible for the spectacular opening exhibition at M – Museum Leuven about Rogier van der Weyden, will also curate this exhibition.

Leuven, a powerful magnet – Festival Highlights

On 16 December 1516, Flanders’ very first printer, Dirk Martens, was hard at work in the house the Gulden Toirtse, on the corner of Naamsestraat and Standonckstraat in Leuven. A brand-new book was hot off the press. The English statesman and humanist Thomas More had written a visionary work entitled Utopia. Or as it was known in full: A golden book, no less beneficial than humorous, about the ideal republic and about the new island Utopia.

More describes an ideal society that a traveller discovered somewhere on an island. The fact that a highly esteemed English humanist published his book in Leuven was no coincidence. In More’s day, the cream of European intelligentsia came together on the banks of the Dyle river. It was thanks to the mediation of his good friend Erasmus, who maintained a close connection to the university town, that Utopia was printed in Leuven. Its tremendous worldwide impact made Utopia a new word, a new artistic and social concept and the most influential book in the Low Countries.

Only a stone’s throw from M – Museum Leuven, the University Library of Leuven is organising a parallel exhibition that sheds light on the context and influence of Thomas More’s Utopia and the Utopian library.

The programme also features a fundamental pillar of contemporary art. The Contemporary Art Committee of the University of Leuven is organising the exhibition ‘Tracing the Future’, which will provide insights into the way in which artists interpret the concept of ‘utopia’ nowadays. The selected works subtly refer to failed utopias of the past and at the same time raise awareness about pressing social or ecological themes. The French-Moroccan artist Yto Barrada is presenting an exhibition at M – Museum Leuven. Various historical heritage locations throughout the city will also be hosting a group exhibition with work by the internationally renowned artists Ursula Biemann & Paulo Tavares, Martin Le Chevallier, The Otolith Group and Adrien Tirtiaux.

In the Fablab laboratory of the University of Leuven, several artists will use the latest technologyto explore the boundaries of their ‘utopia’. The tour ‘Ex Vitro’ on the outskirts of Leuven, around the Arenberg Castle and internationally renowned research institute Imec, will present original work by Frederik De Wilde, Stefaan Quix, Michaël Roskam and Bas Smets, created in and with Fablab.

The complete program will be available on the website www.utopialeuven.be from June 2016.