Baptismal font at St Bartholomew's Church, Liège

The baptismal font at St Bartholomew's Church, Liège is a Romanesque brass or bronze baptismal font made between 1107 and 1118 now in St Bartholomew's Church, Liège in Liège, Belgium. The font is a major masterpiece of Mosan art, remarkable for the classicism of its style, whose origin has been the subject of great debate among art historians. The Meuse River valley in modern Belgium and France, roughly coterminous with the Diocese of Liège, was the leading 12th-century centre of Romanesque metalwork, which was still the most prestigious medium in art.

Renier de Huy MCL1
Another view of the font


The Liège font was commissioned after 1107 and completed by 1118 for the church of Notre-Dame-aux-Fonts ("Our Lady's with the font"), which abutted the old Liège Cathedral and functioned as the baptistry for the city.[1] These dates are based on the period of office of the Abbé Hellin, parish priest of the church, known to have commissioned it, for in his obituary in the contemporary Chronicon Rythmicum Leodiense (English: Liège Rhyming Chronicle) the font is clearly described, though with no mention of the artist.[2] Both cathedral and church were destroyed during the French Revolution, and the font was hidden for safe-keeping before being moved to its present location in 1804. The Liège chronicle describes a cover with figures of the Four Evangelists and prophets, presumably also in metal, which was lost during the Revolution, along with two of the supporting oxen.[3] The present stone plinth and setting replaced in the 20th century a solid round stone one built in 1804.[4][5] The font is still used for baptisms today; there is normally a small charge for viewing it.[6]

Renier de Huy

Renier de Huy MCL3
Detail of John the Baptist baptising the two neophytes.

The font was traditionally attributed to Renier de Huy, a 12th-century metalworker and sculptor, but this, and even the Mosan origin of the font, have been questioned and alternative theories advanced. Nothing is known of Rainer's life other than that he was mentioned in a document of 1125 as a goldsmith,[7] but a 14th-century chronicle mentions him as the artist of the font.[8] He may have died about 1150.[9] Another equally shadowy figure in Mosan metalwork from the next generation, Godefroid de Huy or de Claire, also came from the small but prosperous city of Huy on the Meuse.

The only other work generally agreed to be by the same master as the font is a small bronze crucifix (Schnütgen Museum, Cologne);[10] another in Brussels has many similarities.[11] A censer in similar style is attributed to Renier or a follower by many.[12]

Style and origin

The figures on the font are in very high relief, and have a remarkable classicism of style; so much so that it has also been suggested that it was in fact made in Constantinople,[13] or by Greeks in Rome about 1000. Other explanations attribute the classicism to close Byzantine influence,[14] though as Honour and Fleming point out, "In bodily proportions, poses, gestures and garments, they recall Classical models far beyond Byzantine, Carolingian, or even Early Christian art"; they suggest the artist might have seen ancient Greek sculptures in Constantinople when on the First Crusade.[15] Other writers explain the style as emerging from older Mosan and Carolingian traditions, with recent Byzantine influence, and prefiguring Gothic figure style.[16] The idealized figures are modelled in rounded forms; several nude figures are present, and one is seen from behind in a three-quarters view, a sophisticated classical pose.

Art-historical argument over the origin of the font has been vigorous and sometimes acrimonious, and in recent decades mostly conducted in French.[17] In support of the Byzantine origin theory, analysis of the lead in 1993 has shown that it came from mines in Spain or Sardinia, whereas other Mosan works used locally sourced metal.[18] Pierre Colman and his wife Berthe Lhoist-Colman have developed a "Roman" theory, according to which the Holy Roman Emperor Otto III commissioned the font from Greek craftsmen in Rome in about 1000, as a gift for the Basilica of Saint John Lateran there.[19] Decades later it was carried off by Henry IV or Henry V to the Meuse.[20] However most art historians continue to accept the traditional Mosan attribution, and relate the style to the other works mentioned above.


00 Fonts batismaux - Renier de Huy
Saint John the Baptist preaching, the start of the sequence of scenes
Renier de Huy JPG01
The last two scenes

The basin is 91 centimetres (36 in) across at the top, tapering slightly towards the base, and is variously described as of brass or bronze.[21] It was made by lost wax casting, with the basin cast in a single piece; the size was not necessarily exceptional, as both church bells and cauldrons for large households were probably cast at comparable sizes; some church doors cast in a single piece, though flat, were much larger. The font sat on twelve oxen (two are now missing), who emerged from a stone plinth, a reference to the "molten sea... on twelve oxen" cast in bronze for Solomon's temple[22] The five scenes shown, identified by Latin inscriptions ("tituli") on the rim above and in the image field, can be read in chronological sequence:[23][24]

  • John the Baptist preaching to four figures, the last on the right in full military gear; followed by a fig tree.[25]
  • John baptising two neophytes, with two further figures to the right, who probably represent the two disciples John told to follow Jesus (John 1:35–37). As often in Early Medieval art, the attempt to convey the River Jordan stretching away in perspective has it rise up like a mound. A palm tree follows.[26]
  • The Baptism of Christ by John the Baptist, a commonly represented scene, again with the water piling up like a mound. Jesus is beardless and young, as is also typical. The angel to the right of Jesus has his hands veiled with a cloth, a mark of respect in Eastern liturgy, though it may also simply represent a cloth ready for Jesus to dry himself with. An olive tree follows.[27]
  • Saint Peter baptising Cornelius the Centurion, the first gentile to be baptised (Acts 10), with a sponsor or godfather. The Hand of God appears from above to signal approval.[28]
  • Saint John the Evangelist baptising the "philosopher Craton", also with a sponsor and Hand. A vine follows. The story of Craton comes from apocryphal writings such as the account of John's life by the Pseudo-Abdias.[29]
Fonts baptismaux
Baptismal font of Furnaux also inspired by Rupert de Deutz

Except for the last two the scenes are separated by trees which are stylised in typical Romanesque fashion, but whose leaf shapes are all different.[30] A continuous undulating ground-line runs all round the basin. Other inscriptions run round the top and bottom rims of the basin.[31] While the baptism of Jesus is very commonly depicted in Early Medieval art, those of the other figures are very rare subjects indeed,[32] and this unusually elaborate and learned programme was no doubt composed with clerical assistance. It does not reflect Byzantine iconographic precedents; instead it matches closely the interest in typology and allegory, of which the influential contemporary Liège-born theologian Rupert of Deutz was a particular exponent (though Rupert was also a particular opponent of the bishop at the time, Otbert of Liège, who took the Emperor's side in the Investiture Controversy).[33] The head of God the Father that appears at the top of the Baptism of Christ (identified as PATER) is an early appearance of God the Father in Western art; a Hand of God, more typical of the period, appears in the baptism scenes of Cornelius and Craton.

The baptismal font in the little village of Furnaux (Mettet), relatively far from Liège but at that time in the same diocese, has the same theological background linking Rupert de Deutz's theological vision where the Old Testament and New Testament are closely linked.


  1. ^ Beckwith, 178. See Xhayet and Halleux, 123, note 17 for a fuller account of the status of the church and its priest.
  2. ^ Xhayet and Halleux, 21 (quotes chronicle) and 122–123
  3. ^ Xhayet and Halleux, 21 and 123 and Liège City Tourism
  4. ^ Rousseaux, Henry (1907), "Les fonts baptismaux de Saint Barthélémy à Liège", Bulletin des Musées Royaux d'arts décoratifs et industriels (in French), pp. 58–60
  5. ^ See old photos on Commons
  6. ^ Liège City Tourism
  7. ^ Beckwith, 178
  8. ^ Oxford
  9. ^ Beckwith, 178. The Getty Union Artist Names List has him active until 1144 [1]
  10. ^ Lasko, 181
  11. ^ Illustrated in Xhayet and Halleux, before p. 129
  12. ^ Lasko
  13. ^ Oxford
  14. ^ Henderson (1967), 46, Gombrich and others
  15. ^ Honour & Fleming, 288 online text. See also Beckwith, 178–179
  16. ^ Beckwith, 178–179, Henderson (1967), 46–48
  17. ^ Xhayet and Halleux, 117, 199
  18. ^ Xhayet and Halleux, 101–103; see also note 19 on p. 124, and Liège City Tourism
  19. ^ Colman and Lhoist-Colman, 2003.
  20. ^ Xhayet and Halleux, 99–101, who do not accept this theory.
  21. ^ The two terms for copper alloys have some overlap.
  22. ^ 1 Kings 7:23-7:27; this feature is today typical of fonts in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
  23. ^ See the continuous diagram at Xhayet and Halleux, 124; the scenes are covered in great detail in the pages following; also Calkins, 128
  24. ^ "Linear graphic of Baptismal font at St Bartholomew's Church (official website)". Picture. ASBL "Art et Histoire - Saint-Barthélemy - Liège". Archived from the original on 2010-01-20. Retrieved 2010-01-20. (in French)
  25. ^ Xhayet and Halleux, 124-6
  26. ^ Xhayet and Halleux, 126-9
  27. ^ Xhayet and Halleux, 129–131
  28. ^ Xhayet and Halleux, 131-32
  29. ^ Cartlidge and Elliott, 195; for a full account in French see Xhayet and Halleux, 199ff, and 132-33.
  30. ^ See the comparison at Xhayet and Halleux, 127, where each is identified as respectively fig, vine, olive and palm.
  31. ^ Xhayet and Halleux, 94–98 give the texts. These are a number of hexameters of Leonine verse, the upper ones explaining the relief scenes while the lower one explains the oxen: "By the twelve oxen is shown the forma [type] of pastors, through the example of whose apostolic life, full of grace, and their elevated office, the citizens are purified, and the spirit of these waters refreshes the holy city" (approximate translation)
  32. ^ St Peter baptising an unspecified figure is shown on an ivory book cover of c. 900 in Florence, in a similar composition which also has a layperson to the right of the font, holding textiles (the naked catchumen's clothes, or a towel) which veil his hands in a similar way to the angel in the Baptism of Jesus scene here. Lasko, plate 63
  33. ^ Xhayet and Halleux, 133, and 122 on their dispute. See also Henderson (1977), 229


  • Beckwith, John. Early Medieval Art: Carolingian, Ottonian, Romanesque, Thames & Hudson, 1964 (rev. 1969), ISBN 0-500-20019-X
  • Calkins, Robert G.; Monuments of Medieval Art, Dutton, 1979, ISBN 0-525-47561-3
  • Cartlidge, David R. and Elliott, James Keith, Art and the Christian Apocrypha, Routledge, 2001, ISBN 0-415-23392-5, ISBN 978-0-415-23392-7, Google books
  • Colman, Pierre; Lhoist-Colman, Berthe (2003), Les fonts baptismaux de Saint-Barthélemy à Liège - Chef-d'oeuvre sans pareil et noeud de controverses (in French), Académie Royale de Belgique, ISBN 2-8031-0189-0
  • Henderson, George. Gothic Art, 1967, Penguin, ISBN 0-14-020806-2
  • Henderson, George. Early Medieval Art, 1972, rev. 1977, Penguin.
  • Hugh Honour and John Fleming, A World History of Art, 1st edn. 1982 & later editions, Macmillan, London, page refs to 1984 Macmillan 1st edn. paperback. ISBN 0-333-37185-2
  • Kleiner, Fred S., Christin J. Mamiya, and Helen Gardner. Gardner's Art Through the Ages. Belmont: Wadsworth, 2004
  • Lasko, Peter, Ars Sacra, Penguin History of Art (now Yale)
  • City of Liège Tourism, with good feature, and a bibliography of recent scholarship in French. Accessed 10 Jan. 2010
  • "Oxford": Rainer of Huy: The Oxford Dictionary of Art. Accessed 10 Jan. 2010, [2]
  • Swarzenski, Hanns. Monuments of Romanesque Art; The Art of Church Treasures in North-Western Europe, Faber and Faber, 1974, ISBN 0-571-10588-2
  • Xhayet, Geneviève and Halleux, Robert (eds), Études sur les fonts baptismaux de Saint-Barthélémy à Liège, Editions du CEFAL, 2006, ISBN 2-87130-212-X, 9782871302124 google books

External links

1110s in art

The decade of the 1110s in art involved some significant events.

Art of Belgium

Despite its size, Belgium has a long and distinguished artistic tradition that goes back to the Middle Ages, considerably pre-dating the foundation of the current state in 1830. Art from the areas making up modern Belgium is called in English Netherlandish up to the separation with the Netherlands from 1570 on, and Flemish until the 18th century.

Important monasteries in Belgium were centres of production in Carolingian art and Ottonian art, and later the area producing Romanesque Mosan art is now largely in Belgium. Flanders became one of the richest areas in Europe in the later Middle Ages and Early Netherlandish painting produced work for both the wealthy townspeople as well as the courtiers of the Duke of Burgundy.

In the Renaissance Antwerp Mannerism was an early attempt by Flemish artists to respond to Italian Renaissance art, with Romanism a later phase. Dutch and Flemish Renaissance painting culminated in the work of Pieter Bruegel the Elder in one direction, and the Flemish contribution to Northern Mannerism in a very different one. Flemish Baroque painting is dominated by the figure of Rubens, though like his pupil Anthony van Dyck, he spent much of his career abroad. There was also a great development of specialized genres in painting, paralleling those in Dutch Golden Age painting to the north, but with many differences.


Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc, in proportions which can be varied to achieve varying mechanical and electrical properties. It is a substitutional alloy: atoms of the two constituents may replace each other within the same crystal structure. In contrast, bronze is an alloy of copper and tin.Both bronze and brass may include small proportions of a range of other elements including arsenic, lead, phosphorus, aluminium, manganese, and silicon. The distinction is largely historical. Modern practice in museums and archaeology increasingly avoids both terms for historical objects in favour of the all-embracing "copper alloy".Brass is used for decoration for its bright gold-like appearance; for applications where low friction is required such as locks, gears, bearings, doorknobs, ammunition casings and valves; for plumbing and electrical applications; and extensively in brass musical instruments such as horns and bells where a combination of high workability (historically with hand tools) and durability is desired. It is also used in zippers. Brass is often used in situations in which it is important that sparks not be struck, such as in fittings and tools used near flammable or explosive materials.


Bronze is an alloy consisting primarily of copper, commonly with about 12–12.5% tin and often with the addition of other metals (such as aluminium, manganese, nickel or zinc) and sometimes non-metals or metalloids such as arsenic, phosphorus or silicon. These additions produce a range of alloys that may be harder than copper alone, or have other useful properties, such as stiffness, ductility, or machinability.

The archeological period in which bronze was the hardest metal in widespread use is known as the Bronze Age. The beginning of the Bronze Age in India and western Eurasia is conventionally dated to the mid-4th millennium BC, and to the early 2nd millennium BC in China; everywhere it gradually spread across regions. The Bronze Age was followed by the Iron Age starting from about 1300 BC and reaching most of Eurasia by about 500 BC, although bronze continued to be much more widely used than it is in modern times.

Because historical pieces were often made of brasses (copper and zinc) and bronzes with different compositions, modern museum and scholarly descriptions of older objects increasingly use the more inclusive term "copper alloy" instead.

Bronze sculpture

Bronze is the most popular metal for cast metal sculptures; a cast bronze sculpture is often called simply a "bronze". It can be used for statues, singly or in groups, reliefs, and small statuettes and figurines, as well as bronze elements to be fitted to other objects such as furniture. It is often gilded to give gilt-bronze or ormolu.

Common bronze alloys have the unusual and desirable property of expanding slightly just before they set, thus filling the finest details of a mould. Then, as the bronze cools, it shrinks a little, making it easier to separate from the mould. Their strength and ductility (lack of brittleness) is an advantage when figures in action are to be created, especially when compared to various ceramic or stone materials (such as marble sculpture). These qualities allow the creation of extended figures, as in Jeté, or figures that have small cross sections in their support, such as the equestrian statue of Richard the Lionheart.But the value of the bronze for uses other than making statues is disadvantageous to the preservation of sculptures; few large ancient bronzes have survived, as many were melted down to make weapons or ammunition in times of war or to create new sculptures commemorating the victors, while far more stone and ceramic works have come through the centuries, even if only in fragments. As recently as 2007 several life sized bronze sculptures by John Waddell were stolen, probably due to the value of the metal after the work has been melted.

History of Belgium

The history of Belgium extends before the founding of the modern state of that name in 1830. Belgium's history is therefore intertwined with those of its neighbours: the Netherlands, Germany, France and Luxembourg. For most of its history, what is now Belgium was either a part of a larger territory, such as the Carolingian Empire, or divided into a number of smaller states, prominent among them being the Duchy of Brabant, the County of Flanders, the Prince-Bishopric of Liège and County of Luxembourg. Due to its strategic location and the many armies fighting on its soil, since the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648), Belgium has often been called the "battlefield of Europe" or the "cockpit of Europe". It is also remarkable as a European nation which contains, and is divided by, a language boundary between Latin-derived French and Germanic Dutch.

Belgium's modern shape can be partly traced back at least as far as the "Seventeen Provinces" within the Burgundian Netherlands. These lands straddled the ancient boundary of the Scheldt that had divided medieval France and Germany, but they were brought together under the House of Valois-Burgundy, and unified into one autonomous territory by their heir Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, in his Pragmatic Sanction of 1549. The Eighty Years' War (1568–1648) later led to the split between a northern Dutch Republic and the Southern Netherlands from which Belgium and Luxembourg developed. This southern territory continued to be ruled by the Habsburg descendants of the Burgundian house, at first as the "Spanish Netherlands". Invasions from France under Louis XIV led to the loss of what is now Nord-Pas-de-Calais to France, while the remainder finally became the "Austrian Netherlands". The French Revolutionary wars led to Belgium becoming part of France in 1795, bringing the end of the semi-independence of areas which had belonged to the Catholic church. After the defeat of the French in 1814, a new United Kingdom of the Netherlands was created, which eventually split one more time during the Belgian Revolution of 1830–1839, giving three modern nations, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg.

The ports and textile industry of Belgium were important back into the Middle Ages, and modern Belgium was one of the first countries to experience an Industrial Revolution, which brought prosperity in the 19th century but also opened a political dichotomy between liberal businessmen and socialist workers. The king set up his own private colonial empire in the Belgian Congo, which the government took over after a major scandal in 1908. Belgium was neutral but its strategic location as a pathway to France made it an invasion target for Germany in 1914 and 1940. Conditions under the occupation were severe. In the postwar period Belgium was a leader in European unification, as a founding member of what has become the European Union. Brussels is now host to the headquarters of NATO and is the de facto capital of the European Union. The colonies became independent in the early 1960s.

Politically the country was once polarized on matters of religion and, in recent decades, it has faced new divisions over differences of language and unequal economic development. This ongoing antagonism has caused far-reaching reforms since the 1970s, changing the formerly unitary Belgian state into a federal state, and repeated governmental crises. It is now divided into three regions: Flanders (Dutch-speaking) in the north, Wallonia (French-speaking) in the south, and bilingual Brussels in the middle. There is also a German-speaking population along the border with Germany that was granted to Prussia in the Congress of Vienna in 1815 but added to Belgium following the 1919 Treaty of Versailles following World War I. German is the third official language of Belgium.

Medieval art

The medieval art of the Western world covers a vast scope of time and place, over 1000 years of art in Europe, and at times the Middle East and North Africa. It includes major art movements and periods, national and regional art, genres, revivals, the artists' crafts, and the artists themselves.

Art historians attempt to classify medieval art into major periods and styles, often with some difficulty. A generally accepted scheme includes the later phases of Early Christian art, Migration Period art, Byzantine art, Insular art, Pre-Romanesque, Romanesque art, and Gothic art, as well as many other periods within these central styles. In addition each region, mostly during the period in the process of becoming nations or cultures, had its own distinct artistic style, such as Anglo-Saxon art or Viking art.

Medieval art was produced in many media, and works survive in large numbers in sculpture, illuminated manuscripts, stained glass, metalwork and mosaics, all of which have had a higher survival rate than other media such as fresco wall-paintings, work in precious metals or textiles, including tapestry. Especially in the early part of the period, works in the so-called "minor arts" or decorative arts, such as metalwork, ivory carving, enamel and embroidery using precious metals, were probably more highly valued than paintings or monumental sculpture.Medieval art in Europe grew out of the artistic heritage of the Roman Empire and the iconographic traditions of the early Christian church. These sources were mixed with the vigorous "barbarian" artistic culture of Northern Europe to produce a remarkable artistic legacy. Indeed, the history of medieval art can be seen as the history of the interplay between the elements of classical, early Christian and "barbarian" art. Apart from the formal aspects of classicism, there was a continuous tradition of realistic depiction of objects that survived in Byzantine art throughout the period, while in the West it appears intermittently, combining and sometimes competing with new expressionist possibilities developed in Western Europe and the Northern legacy of energetic decorative elements. The period ended with the self-perceived Renaissance recovery of the skills and values of classical art, and the artistic legacy of the Middle Ages was then disparaged for some centuries. Since a revival of interest and understanding in the 19th century it has been seen as a period of enormous achievement that underlies the development of later Western art.

Mosan art

Mosan art is a regional style of art from the valley of the Meuse in present-day Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany. Although in a broader sense the term applies to art from this region from all periods, it generally refers to Romanesque art, with Mosan Romanesque architecture, stone carving, metalwork, enamelling and manuscript illumination reaching a high level of development during the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries.

Renier de Huy

Renier de Huy (or Rainer of Huy) (also Reiner, van, etc. in any combination) was a 12th-century metalworker and sculptor to whom is attributed a major masterpiece of Mosan art, the baptismal font at St Bartholomew's Church, Liège in Liege, Belgium of 1107–18. The Meuse River valley in modern Belgium and France, roughly comprising the Diocese of Liège, was the leading 12th century centre of Romanesque metalwork, which was still the most prestigious medium in art. Nothing is known of Rainer's life other than that a "Reinerus aurifaber" witnessed a charter of the Bishop of Liège relating to a church in Huy in 1125, but the 15th century Liège chronicle mentions him as the artist of the font. He may have died about 1150. Another equally shadowy figure in Mosan metalwork from the next generation, Godefroid de Huy/de Claire, also came from the small but prosperous city of Huy on the Meuse.

The only other work generally agreed to be by the same master as the font is a small bronze crucifix figure (Schnütgen Museum, Cologne); another in Brussels is probably from the same mould, with extra chasing. Others in Brussels and Dublin are probably from the workshop as they have many similarities.


Sculpture is the branch of the visual arts that operates in three dimensions. It is one of the plastic arts. Durable sculptural processes originally used carving (the removal of material) and modelling (the addition of material, as clay), in stone, metal, ceramics, wood and other materials but, since Modernism, there has been an almost complete freedom of materials and process. A wide variety of materials may be worked by removal such as carving, assembled by welding or modelling, or molded or cast.

Sculpture in stone survives far better than works of art in perishable materials, and often represents the majority of the surviving works (other than pottery) from ancient cultures, though conversely traditions of sculpture in wood may have vanished almost entirely. However, most ancient sculpture was brightly painted, and this has been lost.Sculpture has been central in religious devotion in many cultures, and until recent centuries large sculptures, too expensive for private individuals to create, were usually an expression of religion or politics. Those cultures whose sculptures have survived in quantities include the cultures of the ancient Mediterranean, India and China, as well as many in Central and South America and Africa.

The Western tradition of sculpture began in ancient Greece, and Greece is widely seen as producing great masterpieces in the classical period. During the Middle Ages, Gothic sculpture represented the agonies and passions of the Christian faith. The revival of classical models in the Renaissance produced famous sculptures such as Michelangelo's David. Modernist sculpture moved away from traditional processes and the emphasis on the depiction of the human body, with the making of constructed sculpture, and the presentation of found objects as finished art works.


Wallonia (French: Wallonie [walɔni], German: Wallonie(n), Dutch: Wallonië [ʋaːˈloːnijə] (listen), Walloon: Walonreye Walloon pronunciation: ​[walɔnʀɛj], Luxembourgish: Wallounien, [vɑˈləʊ̯niə̯n]) is a region of Belgium. As the southern portion of the country, Wallonia is primarily French-speaking, and accounts for 55% of Belgium's territory and a third of its population. The Walloon Region was not merged with the French Community of Belgium, which is the political entity responsible for matters related mainly to culture and education, because the French Community of Belgium encompasses both Wallonia and the majority French-Speaking Brussels-Capital Region. The German-speaking minority in eastern Wallonia results from WWI and the subsequent annexation of three cantons that were initially part of the former German empire. This community represents less than 1% of the Belgian population. It forms the German-speaking Community of Belgium, which has its own government and parliament for culture-related issues.

During the industrial revolution, Wallonia was second only to the United Kingdom in industrialization, capitalizing on its extensive deposits of coal and iron. This brought the region wealth, and from the beginning of the 19th to the middle of the 20th century, Wallonia was the more prosperous half of Belgium. Since World War II, the importance of heavy industry has greatly diminished, and the Flemish Region surpassed Wallonia in wealth, as Wallonia declined economically. Wallonia now suffers from high unemployment and has a significantly lower GDP per capita than Flanders. The economic inequalities and linguistic divide between the two are major sources of political conflicts in Belgium and a major factor in Flemish separatism.

The capital of Wallonia is Namur, and the most populous city is Charleroi. Most of Wallonia's major cities and two-thirds of its population lie along the Sambre and Meuse valley, the former industrial backbone of Belgium. To the north lies the Central Belgian Plateau, which, like Flanders, is relatively flat and agriculturally fertile. In the southeast lie the Ardennes, hilly and sparsely populated. Wallonia borders Flanders and the Netherlands (Limburg) in the north, France (Grand Est and Hauts-de-France) to the south and west, and Germany (North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate) and Luxembourg (Capellen, Clervaux, Esch-sur-Alzette, Redange and Wiltz) to the east. Wallonia has been a member of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie since 1980.

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