Popular Plaza Offers Antiques, Art Galleries and Chocolates

Merin is a New York City free-lance writer .

Place du Grand Sablon, a pleasant, triangle-shaped plaza, is close to the heart of Brussels . . . and the heart of shoppers.

Surrounded by vintage town houses and charming shops, it's a favorite place for shopping, especially on weekends when residents and tourists flock to its enormously popular outdoor antiques market (open Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sundays 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.).

About 100 vendors display their varied wares in colorful tentlike stalls at one end of the plaza. Merchandise ranges from antique rugs to 19th-Century landscapes or turn-of-the-century photos, and from ancient scientific instruments to vintage perfume bottles. Stock changes continually; prices are reasonable, and tactful bargaining may result in reductions.

Friendly Vendors

The atmosphere in the mazelike alleys between the stalls is festive and friendly. Vendors sit at folding tables to share impromptu feasts of cafe au lait poured from thermoses and crisp, fresh croissants.

The market is not the Sablon's only shopping attraction. On Saturdays (or weekdays, when the market is closed and the area is less crowded), browsers enjoy a variety of wonderful antique shops, galleries and gift boutiques surrounding the plaza.

One of the most popular shops is Wittamer, the world-famous Belgian chocolatier at No. 6. It isn't unusual to see limousines lined up outside the shop as Brussels' chic and sophisticated diplomats and high-level bureaucrats stock up on prestige confections.

Select a sampling from two dozen types of hand-dipped, incredibly rich but not overly sweet truffles, fresh creams, pralines and marzipans, for $3 per 100 grams. The chocolates are packaged in cheerful, bright-pink paper with green ribbon.

The Sablon Shopping Gardens (No. 36, directly across Place du Grand Sablon from Wittamer) has about a dozen excellent antique shops and art galleries surrounding a delightful covered courtyard cafe. The shops offer a broad range of merchandise.

Librarie Arte has splendid art books that are, in their own right, works of art. French and English titles, covering schools from Renaissance to Post-Modern and artists from Rembrandt to Rousseau, sell for $40 to $180.

Dutch Paintings

Willy de Jonge has turn-of-the-century paintings, especially land and seascapes by Edmond Verstraeten (1870-1956) and other Flemish and Dutch artists (about $4,000 to $12,000).

Arno Art Gallery's collection contains high-priced canvasses from the Flemish School, including country scenes by Joseph van Bredael (1688-1739) and marine scenes by 18th-Century artist Jean Baptiste Bouttats.

Archeologia features beautifully carved stone Hellenistic heads, as well as ancient glass ewers and vials and exquisite glass and stone beads from Iran, circa 2000 BC (about $500).

L'Atelier Contemporain's antique jewelry includes lovely 19th-Century marcasite bracelets and oval brooches ($150), as well as unusual and amusing flamingo pins of silver, onyx and marcasite.

Josefina Cardenas deals in fine objets d'art, including silver and cut-glass pitchers ($730 for a set of two) and Limoges enameled stamp boxes ($315), all from the 19th Century.

Philippe Ancart sells Oriental antiques, including an 18th-Century ottoman, etched silver sword and silver-embellished leather scabbard (about $1,000), ceremonial knives with stag horn handles from Borneo ($390) and delicate 14th-Century green bowls from Vietnam ($500).

Gallery Deileman specializes in signed bronze sculpture by French, Belgian, Italian and Polish artists, from the end of the 19th Century to the present. The collection includes works by Alberic Collin (1886-1962) (about $12,500), and a bronze deer by Raymond de Meister for $6,000.

Hand-Carved Vessels

Antica has 18th-Century French armoires ($4,000) and models, hand-carved and fitted, of ancient sailing vessels ($800), as well as some tribal artifacts.

Rue Lebeau, at the narrowest corner of the triangular place, trails off down a gentle hill to several shops and galleries.

Amaryllis (No.67) is the home of dozens of antique dolls, mostly of 19th-Century vintage, from Germany, France, Holland and Belgium, and from big porcelain princesses ($2,600 and up) to little celluloid puppets in ethnic dress ($60).

An elegantly dressed automated doll fans herself and looks into a hand mirror ($2,000). In addition, the 20-year-old shop sells antique lamps, chandeliers and mirrors.

Rosalie Pompon's (No. 65) gift items and home accessories have unusual humor. There are foot warmers featuring a pair of fake fur-lined leather slippers stitched to a pink velvet pillow ($40), clocks that look like starched washcloths ($42) or stacks of money ($57), luminescent Plexiglas fountain pens ($5), wire egg baskets shaped like chickens ($22) and designer Marianne Dock's decorative papier-mache snakes with bright colors and silly facial expressions ($52).

Particularly clever are the four-peg wooden coat hanger with three empty pegs and a sculpted wooden parka on the fourth peg, and Belgian designer Louis Claus' rectangular coffee table with a Plexiglas top that contains several Barbie Doll-like bathers around a miniature swimming pool ($1,570); only five such tables were made.

Rotin et Decoration (No. 45), an interior decorating shop, sells bamboo furniture and accessories, including folding bridge tables ($660), huge baskets ($350), bird cages ($16), lamp bases of braided bamboo ($700) and large round tables ($2,100), as well as Plexiglas and brass twisted candleholders ($78 to $105 a pair) and bronze sculptures ($52 to $520).

Antique Watches

Luc & Ingrid van Cauwenbergh (No. 33), a brother-and-sister team, deal in watches and clocks and 19th-Century decorative objects, including an 1870s lady's roll-top desk ($2,000) that came from the Chateau de Cleydael.

The collection of about 250 watches (from the 16th Century to the present) is kept in a vault, so call in advance (512-6242) to see.

There is a silver octagonal complicated astronomical watch (made in France in 1590, for $2,400), vintage Rolexes and pocket watches made from $20 gold pieces (about $2,700 and up).

Charles J. Geerts' (No. 27) hospitable shop sells jewelry by several contemporary designers: Guy Badoux makes pendants, brooches and earrings of large baroque pearls surrounded by small sapphires and rubies, and set to look as if they are erupting from molten gold or silver ($370 and up).

Jean-Marie Fievez uses the mask motif to create silver rings ($130), cuff links ($260), stickpins ($250) and one-of-a-kind idol-like horned mask pendants made of gold and silver with rubies or other precious stones set in the forehead (about $750 and up).

Alain Lerolle, whose jewelry has been exhibited in New York City's Museum of Modern Art, makes pins ($200) and neck collars ($540) of titanium-tinted vibrant blues, turquoises and purples.

Sidney H. Root's art gallery displays graphics and sculptures by contemporary Brazilian artists, including Max Forti's remarkable bronze and clear Plexiglas kinetic sculpture of trapeze artists ($4,850), and Helio Rodriguez's two-tone bronze sculptures of two horses' heads ($290) or two human torsos ($789) that can be placed adjacent to each other or apart.

19th-Century Curiosities

Phillipe Denys' (No. 19) antique shop is filled with 19th-Century curiosities, including a Russian jewelry box made of wood inlaid with whalebone ($1,100), a hunting chair made of stag's antlers ($1,000) and a hot chocolate serving set packed in an old leather case and consisting of a gold-plated silver pot plus four exquisite porcelain cups and saucers with a pretty red floral pattern ($1,973).

Delftenco (No. 11) has more than 6,000 vintage blue-and-white Dutch Delft tiles with pictures of windmills and country scenes.

Tiles that have survived from the 19th Century cost $11 to $73 each, 18th-Century tile costs $57 to $63 each and those from the 17th Century are $78 to $131. Other antiques include an 18th-Century chess table made of cherry wood ($4,000) and a 60-piece table service of 19th-Century Dutch blue-and-white flower pattern china ($1,100).

Prices quoted in this article reflect currency exchange rates at the time of writing . Most purchases exceeding 3,000 Belgian francs (about $80 U.S.) are eligible for tax rebates of 18% to 33% .

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