Barbara Baert Awarded the Francqui Prize 2016

May 20, 2016



It is with great pleasure we announce that professor Barbara Baert, fellow at Illuminare, has been awarded the Francqui Prize, often dubbed the "Belgian Nobel Prize" and considered to be the highest scientific distinction awarded in Belgium. The prestigious prize was awarded to Barbara Baert - a specialist in medieval visual culture - for her “bold approach to and pioneering work in the field of iconology”. The jury was chaired by Harvard professor Eric Maskin, 2007 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics. The official prize-giving ceremony will take place on the 8th of June in the Acadamy Palace. His Majesty the King will personally present the Francqui Prize to professor Baert.

The KU Leuven press report reads as follows:

"This year’s Francqui prize, often dubbed the Belgian Nobel Prize, goes to professor of iconology Barbara Baert. With the prize, the jury recognizes Barbara Baert’s bold approach to and pioneering work in medieval visual culture and the worship of relics. Professor Baert will receive the prize on 8 June from King Philippe of Belgium. 

Barbara Baert grew up in a family that aroused her interest in the visual arts. This interest developed into a passion for visual cultures, and the visual language of the middle ages in particular. Professor Baert specialized in iconology, the branch of art history that deals with the interpretation of the themes of visual arts. In 2006, she established the international Iconography Research Group. “This demonstrates a bold approach and an innovative, broad perspective on the humanities,” said the jury of the Francqui prize. 

Art theory is a relatively new discipline, so that the scientists are less constricted by strict definitions. Barbara Baert: “I’m very happy with the freedom that comes with my field. It’s wonderful that this is also appreciated by the Francqui Foundation.” Professor Baert doesn’t confine herself to a specific period or culture. She’s always in dialogue with other disciplines, ranging from literary studies, philosophy, and anthropology to even psychoanalysis. Barbara Baert applied this innovative approach for the first time in her doctoral thesis “A Heritage of Holy Wood”. The thesis is still considered an important reference work in her field.

“By focusing on themes such as touch, blood, or fertility, Professor Baert broaches universal themes that continue to occupy a central place in our society,” said the jury. Professor Baert’s research includes the study of previously unexplored aspects of Christian art. She looks into affects and emotions, the use of textiles as a metaphor, or the meaning of the gaze. 

The Belgian Nobel Prize 

The Francqui Foundation was established in 1932 by then US President Herbert Hoover and Belgian diplomat Emile Francqui. After the First World War, both men invested in quite a few scientific organizations to stimulate research in Belgium. Today, Herman Van Rompuy chairs the multidisciplinary board of the Francqui Foundation. 

The Francqui Foundation annually awards a prize to an outstanding scientist. The prize is awarded to researchers in a three-year rotation of fields: humanities, exact sciences, and biomedical sciences. Several winners subsequently also won international awards, including the Nobel Prize. The Francqui prize represents a sum of 250,000 euros. 

Barbara Baert will receive the Francqui prize 2016 on 8 June from King Philippe of Belgium." (Tine Danschutter. Translated by Katrien Bollen)