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Photo library

The Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage's photo archive is the visual memory of Belgium. This veritable treasure trove contains more than a million photos, mainly available online via the database BALaT. You can consult the entire collection in our reading room.

What makes the photo library so unique?

  • More than one million professional photographs, spanning from 1880 to the present day. It is the largest collection of images of Belgian cultural heritage – unique in the world!
  • Freely consultable.
  • More than 750,000 photos are available online for free via BALaT.
  • All aspects of Belgian art heritage are covered: visual arts, crafts, architecture, archaeology, landscapes, historical events, folklore and more.
  • Includes images of objects from private collections.
  • Continuously expanding.
Beschikbare diensten fototheek

Available services

  • Consult more than one million photos.
  • Search via index cards and BALaT.
  • Photocopies. (Ask for photocopier cards at the reception desk.)
  • Photograph documents yourself (without flash).
  • Request digital reproductions.
Wat vind je in de fototheek

What can you find in the photo library?

Belgian public collections

This fund is the result of several projects carried out in the framework of the photographic inventory. It covers museums, churches, abbeys, collections of public social welfare centres, schools, archaeological sites, etc. Built heritage is also part of this inventory.


Over the years, we have acquired much of our content from photographers specialising in documentary art photography. The subjects are highly varied and cover twelve major themes: professions, animals, flora, folklore, meteorology, war, ceremonies, portraits, shows, sports, vehicles and the royal family.

Public collections abroad

This content contains images of works of art by influential artists (including many Flemish Primitives) from museum collections, churches and galleries worldwide.

Private collections in Belgium and abroad

The collections of private individuals, associations and companies sometimes also contain hidden treasures of exceptional value to Belgium. Several owners have already worked with us to make an inventory of their works of art.

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Constantly expanding and improving

The photo library is being expanded and improved upon every day. The photographers of the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage document the works studied in the labs and studios. They also take photographs for specific research projects.

Our colleagues from the Digitisation team convert the remaining analogue images into digital files, adding meta tags to improve searchability. We developed an improved classification method: this allows you to find the photos you are looking for with contextualisation quickly.

Are you experiencing issues with one of the photos? Do you have a suggestion to help us improve the information on an item? Let us know!

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History of the photo inventory

The photographic inventory has a long and fascinating history. The foundation were laid at the beginning of the 20th century by the Royal Museums of Art and History (RMAH). Since then, the collection has grown considerably.

A few steps in the growth of the inventory:

  • During the First World War, the German occupiers took many high-quality photos of Belgium's cultural heritage. The negatives were later bought by the Royal Museums and formed the basis for further collection development.
  • During the Second World War, our heritage came under great threat. Paul Coremans, later the founder and first director of the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage, organised major photo campaigns. These images are often the only reminders of monuments lost in the war, amongst others, during the Ardennes Offensive.
  • 1967-1984. The Second Vatican Council brought about many liturgical changes. Some church furniture types, such as pulpits, lost their function and gradually disappeared from the churches. This was one of the reasons for creating an extensive nationwide photographic repertory of church furniture.

Do you have any questions or want more information? Please contact us!

B0 A7906
Erik Buelinckx
Head of the photo library

Our experts

Eva Coudyzer
Christian Sleeuwaert

Practical information

The team of the Information Centre welcomes you in the reading room:

  • on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday WITHOUT appointment, from 9.30 am to 12.30 pm and from 1.30 pm to 5.30 pm
  • on Mondays and Wednesdays by appointment only (

For any exceptional changes in the opening hours, please consult our Twitter page.

Contact and search assistance

Phone: +32 (0)2 739 67 54


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Rules for visitors of the Information Centre

Check the Information Centre's rules and regulations.

Are you looking for specific information about the Flemish Primitives?

Visit our Centre for the Study of the Flemish Primitives! By appointment only (by e-mail to

Address details and how to reach us