After seven years in the UK, my accent is no longer as strong as it used to be. People no longer automatically assume I'm foreign and in fact, most people think I'm from elsewhere in the UK. Occasionally, someone does ask "Where are you from". A question usually closely followed with the statement : “Nobody famous ever came from Belgium”. For a long time, the only person I could think of was Jean-Claude Van Damme. A response usually met with a lot of laughter. So after some research, I’ve come up with this list of 10 famous Belgians which will once and for all confirm Belgium’s claim to fame. (Hint: There's a big surprise at number 1)
10. Gerardus Mercator
9. Andreas Vesalius
In 1543, Vesalius carried out the public dissection on the notorious felon Jakob Karrer von Gebweiler. The skeleton stands as the oldest anatomical preparation, currently displayed at the Anatomical museum of the University of Basel. Later in 1543, he published his groundbreaking work on human anatomy 'De humani corporis fabrica' (On the fabric of the human body) which he dedicated to Charles V. This led to Vesalius taking up a post as physician at the court of Charles V, a post which he kept till his retirement.
In 1564, Vesalius commenced a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. On his way back, his ship crashed on the Greek island Zakynthos where he died at the age of 50.
8. Rene Magritte
Rene Magritte was a Belgian surrealist painter born in Lessines in 1898. Magritte's earlier paintings, from about 1915, were Impressionistic in style. Between 1918 and 1924, his paintings became heavily influenced by Futurism and Cubism. His work then were female nudes. After jobs in the infantry, draughtsman in a wallpaper factory and poster and advertisement designer, Magritte was offered a contract at the Galerie Le Centaure in Brussels which allowed him to become a full-time painter. In 1926, Magritte produced his first surrealist painting " Le jockey perdu" (The lost jockey) and he held his first exhibition in Brussels in 1927. A few years later, Magritte returned to work in advertising after the galerie closed. Following his Renoir period (1943-1944) and his Vache period (1947-1948), Magritte returned to his original surrealistic style.
Magritte died of pancreatic cancer in 1967 and was interred in Brussels. His most famous paintings include:
- The treachery of images, better known as "Ceci n'est pas une pipe." ( picture)
- The son of man
- The human condition
- The mysteries of the horizon
- The key to dreams
7. Jean-Claude Van Damme
Surprisingly enough, Van Damme took up ballet at the age of 16. A sport which he practised for 5 years and considered to be one of the most difficult sports.
Van Damme is well-known for his martial arts and action movies. His most successful films are Timecop, Universal Soldier and Double Impact. He also lent his voice to Master Croc in the animation Kung Fu Panda.
6. Raymond Ceulemans
5. Peter Paul Rubens
The Flemish baroque painter was born in Germany in 1577 to Belgian parents who fled Antwerp in 1568 after increased religious turmoil. In 1589, Rubens and his mother (his father had died 2 years earlier) returned to Antwerp where Rubens spent his youth. Rubens started an artistic apprenticeship at the age of 14 during which he studied under the city's leading painters at the time. At completion of his education in 1598, Rubens entered the Guild of St Luke as an independent master. In 1600, Rubens travelled to Italy where he spent several years and where
Rubens returned to Antwerp in 1608 after hearing of his mother's illness. Appointed as court painter by Albert VII, Rubens based his workshop in Antwerp. In 1609, Rubens married Isabella Brant and they settled into a house and studio which he had designed (now the Rubenshuis Museum). During this time, his studio employed many students and assistants. At this time, Rubens increased his fame throughout Europe through the production of prints and book-title pages for Balthasar Moretus, owner of the Plantin-Moretus publishing house.
Between 1621 and 1630, Rubens was active as a diplomat. He was knighted by Prince Philip of Spain in 1624, was awarded a Honorary Master of Arts degree from Cambridge University and was knighted again by Charles I of England in 1930. It was at this time that Rubens married his second wife, 16-year-old Helene Fourment, after his first wife died 4 years earlier. Helene was the inspiration for the voluptuous figures in many of his later paintings. Rubens bought the well-known castle "Het Steen" in 1635 and died of gout 4 years later.
4. The Dewaele Brothers
The brothers David and Stephen Dewaele are best known as Soulwax, but are also known as 2manydjs, The Flying Dewaele Brothers, Samantha Fu and Kawazaki. They have however admitted to putting out material under other pseudonyms and aliases.
Soulwax has become increasingly popular for their remixes. Their remix of You Can't Always Get What You Want by the Rolling Stones became the soundtrack to the film 21. Their remixes include:
- Hey Boy Hey Girl - The Chemical Brothers
- Can't get you out of my head - Kylie Minogue
- Muscle Museum - Muse
- Round Round - Sugababes
- Daft Punk Is Playing At My House - LCD Soundsystem
- Robot Rock - Daft Punk
- Lovelight - Robbie Williams
3. Kim Clijsters
Kim Clijsters (born in 1983) has been playing tennis competitions since the age of 6. At 11, she achieved her first major victory when she won the Belgian Junior Championship.
Kim can call herself unofficial world champion, twice even, as she won the Masters in both 2002 and 2003. In 2005 she beats the field of contenders at the US Open. She also reached four more Grand Slam finals and has won 34 singles titles in her career. In the doubles Kim is successful as well. In 2003 she wins both the French Open and Wimbledon along Ai Sugiyama. Together with the Japanese she reels in another 9 doubles titles. Kim is often nicknamed "Killing Kim" or "Kim Kong".
The former number 1 (2003) announced her retirement from tennis in 2007. Not long after, she and partner Brian Lynch welcomed the little Jada into their family. Kim announced her return to tennis in 2009 and has since then added 7 titles to her impressive record. Recently, she won the Australian Open (2011).
2. Eddy Merckx
Amongst his achievements are:
- 5 times winner of Tour de France (only achieved by 3 other cyclists)
- 5 times winner of the Giro d'Italia (achieved by only 2 other cyclists)
- winner of the Vuelta a Espana
- won the world championship twice; once as amateur and once as a pro
- set the 10km, 20km and 1 hour record in Mexico in 1972
- set the record of most Grand Tour victories at 11
Merckx retired from professional cycling in 1978 and became the coach of the Belgian national cycling team in the nineties. He now owns a bicycle factory in Meise and is active as a race commentator on tv.
1. Audrey Hepburn
Audrey Kathleen Ruston was born in Elsene (Brussels) on 4th May 1929 to the British Banker Joseph Ruston and Dutch baroness Ella van Heemstra. Hepburn was in the Netherlands at the time of the war and in order to raise less suspicion, her mother temporarily changed Audrey's name to Edda van Heemstra. After the war, her father found documents of his ancestors whom were named Hepburn and added it to his name, hence Audrey officially became Hepburn-Ruston.
After originally training as a dental nurse, Hepburn went to a ballet school in London and later began a modelling career. After being spot by a producer, she first starred in the film Dutch in Seven Lessons (1948). After her first 'speaking' role as Eve Lester in Young Wives' Tale in 1951, Hepburn headed to America where Audrey had great success. For her first American film Roman Holiday (1953), Hepburn won an Oscar as best actress. Several films and successes later, Hepburn was again nominated for her role of Holly Golightly in Breakfast At Tiffany's (1961).
Hepburn's films include:
- Sabrina (1954)
- Funny face (1957)
- Love in the afternoon (1957)
- The nun's story (1959)
- My fair lady (1964)
Hepburn retired from film in the late 60's and became active as a special ambassador for UNICEF in the 80's. Hepburn passed away in 1993 and later that year was posthumously awarded the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.