Thursday, 24 January 2013

The Road to Van Eyck opens in Rotterdam

Jan van Eyck, The Three Marys at the Tomb, c. 1430-1435. Panel, 71.5 x 90 cm.

The exhibition “The Road to Van Eyck” centering on 15th century Dutch painting has opened at the Boijmans van Beuningen museum in Rotterdam. On view are over ninety works by Jan van Eyck, the perfector of oil-painting technique, and his contemporaries. Never before has such a number of works been gathered in one place as this; and since many of the old works have become very fragile, the chances of ever recreating the same scale of exhibition seem slim.

At the time Jan van Eyck was active as a painter, a period in which artists were creating works all across Europe, and the centres of trade -Amsterdam, Cologne, and so on- not only completed trade transactions but also moved these works of art across national borders. In the midst of all this, Van Eyck studied the works of numerous artists, polishing his skills until he achieved his superior power of expression. Work created by him was met with the highest praise, and continued to influence many painters after him.

Jan van Eyck, The Annunciation, c. 1430-1435.
Oak, transferred on to canvas in St Petersburg
after 1864,  92.7 x 36.7 cm.
Washington DC, National Gallery of Art,
Andrew W. Mellon Collection
In this exhibition, multiple precious works by Van Eyck are on display. In the Turin-Milan Hours we see the culmination of Van Eyck’s earliest work, the minute depictions of which invite the viewer to anticipate his future work. In The Annunciation, the scene of the visit by the archangel Gabriel to the Holy Mother Mary, to announce to her that she is carrying the child of God, has been painted in extravagant colors and delicate brush strokes. Gabriel’s rainbow-colored wings and magnificent robe, the complicated structure of the church interior and the decoration of the floor, all have been expressed to an abundant tactility, by an overwhelming power of depiction.

The painting, The Three Marys at the Tomb which Boijmans van Beuningen possesses, had long been thought to be a work by Van Eyck older brother Hubert; however, there has been contention that it is in fact Jan van Eyck’s work, and it is as of yet a topic on which specialists remain divided. Both Hubert and Jan worked on what would become known as the masterpiece of Ghent: Saint Bavo Cathedral’s altarpiece, the polyptych Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. On an inscription on a frame, discovered during an 1823 restoration of the altarpiece, Hubert was designated as maior quo nemo repertus (greater than anyone) and Jan as arte secundus (second best in the art). At present, however, there are neither any works nor records which are reliably connected to Hubert. The painting The Three Marys at the Tomb is one of a few essential clues left through which we might know the enigmatic painter Hubert.

The Three Marys at the Tomb was restored for the exhibition, and its vivid colors and delicate expression are now more clearly present than before; the restoration process has been made public and is viewable on the Boijmans website. Furthermore, restoration work started on Gent’s Altarpiece on October 2nd, 2012. Although restoration should take five years, only a few panels are to be restored at a time, which means that every panel apart from those being currently restored will be on display at Saint Bavo Cathedral in Gent.

The Road to Van Eyck is open until February 10th. The museum is closed on Mondays, Christmas and New Year’s Day.)
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
Museumpark 18-20
3015 CX Rotterdam
the Netherlands
Opening hours:
Tuesday to Sunday, 11:00-17:00
Closed on Mondays (except Easter Monday and Whitmonday), 1 January, 30 April (Queensday) and 25 December.