Museum of Fine Arts Ghent offers a virtual tour of the exhibition Van Eyck. An Optical Revolution
The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Saturday, July 20, 2024

Museum of Fine Arts Ghent offers a virtual tour of the exhibition Van Eyck. An Optical Revolution
Installation view. © MSK Ghent, photography David Levene.

GHENT.- Museum of Fine Arts Ghent’s exhibition Van Eyck. An Optical Revolution brings together more than half of the twenty surviving paintings and drawings by Jan van Eyck (ca 1390-1441). They are displayed along with works from his studio, copies of lost works by the Master and more than 100 masterpieces by his contemporaries including Fra Angelico, Paolo Uccello, Pisanello and Petrus Christus. Highlight of the exhibition is a once-in-a-life time opportunity to witness eight panels of the Ghent Altarpiece displayed together for the first time in a museum, in what is the largest exhibition that has ever been dedicated to Van Eyck.

Eight panels of the Ghent Altarpiece in a single exhibition
The core of the exhibition consists of eight exterior panels of the closed Ghent Altarpiece (1432) by Hubert and Jan van Eyck. Between 2012 and 2016, the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK) restored these panels in the MSK. The exceptional results of the restoration, whereby after the removal of old layers of varnish and overpainted portions the original masterpiece came into full view, provide a new 'look' into Van Eyck’s process. The restoration also inspired the MSK to create this prestigious exhibition.

For one time, and with the utmost exception, the eight restored panels of the closed altarpiece, along with the presentation of Adam and Eve that are not yet restored, are being displayed as separate paintings outside the walls of St Bavo's Cathedral in Ghent. Moreover, they are being exhibited at eye level so that the splendid colours, the brilliant details and the nearly tangible rendering of materials can be admired up close by everyone. It will be the first and last time that the visitor can come this close to the hand of the Master. The MSK is extremely grateful to the Cathedral for this generosity.

The exhibition route in a nutshell
The exhibition, which is spread out over 13 museum halls, opens with a sketch of the luxurious and ambulatory Burgundian court life in the Low Countries. In the introductory halls, Van Eyck emerges as the chamberlain and court painter of the Burgundian Duke, Philip the Good (1396-1467), and as an important player in the urban network. The interchange between the court and flourishing cities such as Ghent and Bruges, with their artisanal environment and circle of mobile merchants, created the ideal climate in which Van Eyck's revolution could take place. His mythic status and the reception of his work from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century are also explained.

After this contextualising of the 15th-century environment and the origin of Van Eyck's work, the visitor delves into the richness and masterly detail of his optical revolution. In an outright impressive ensemble of some 140 panel paintings, miniatures, drawings and sculptures, Van Eyck himself steps into the foreground.

The exterior panels of the Ghent Altarpiece guide the visitor through the exhibition and are the anchors for various themes such as 'Sin and Salvation’, 'Space', 'Mother and Child', 'Saints in a Landscape', 'The Divine Portrait', 'The Word of God', 'Architecture', 'The Painted Sculpture' and 'The Individual' with Van Eyck's famous portraits of contemporaries.

The route carries the visitor from panoramic vistas to enclosed, contemplative spaces; it evokes the interchange between the material and the spiritual; zooms in on the macro and the micro-cosmos and evolves from Late-medieval society to the individual.

Van Eyck's optical revolution in three facets
Moving from hall to hall, it becomes clear that Jan van Eyck was more than 'a painter': he was an learned artist. He was educated to a certain extent in literature and was one of the first artists to sign his work, which exhibits a high degree of self-awareness. However, he also possessed a great deal of knowledge that allowed him to unleash an optical revolution.

We see the revolution on three levels: his oil-painting technique, his observation of the world and his painting of optical effects of light phenomena.

Oil painting before Van Eyck was actually an impractical medium, until so-called drying agents were added that shortened the drying period and made oil paints easier to manipulate. That is precisely what Jan van Eyck did, and his intervention took on such a mythical proportion that the Tuscan Giorgio Vasari unequivocally attributed the discovery of oil painting to him in 1550. The myth of Van Eyck's genius was thus born. Only late into the eighteenth century was this myth debunked, thanks to the discovery of copy of a twelfth-century manuscript on painting.

The second facet of his optical revolution is Van Eyck's fine-tuned observation of the world. The troubles he went through to minutely and nearly tangibly reproduce the smallest detail was never seen before and remains astonishing to this day. A deep-rooted interest in the painting of light was crucial along with this observation. Persons, objects or interiors gain three-dimensional form through the light that shines on them, or by the very absence of light in the shadows.

Finally, he went yet a step further in his already genial mastery of light. The hypothesis proposes that the painter not only relied upon direct perception and the painting of the world, but that he also possessed knowledge about the optical effects of light--the third facet of his optical revolution. Constant lighting was impossible in an artist's studio at the time because a painter was dependent upon sunlight or candlelight. With the smallest change of the lighting conditions the optical characteristics also change.

And that is precisely what Van Eyck showed: he painted the actual lighting in the Vijd Chapel (St Bavo's Cathedral, Ghent), the place in which the Ghent Altarpiece was installed after completion. As such, it appears as if the exterior panels are actually illuminated by the light that enters into the chapel from the right, and this is done with a coherency and accuracy that, in a time without artificial lighting, is exceptionally true to life.

How did Jan van Eyck achieve this? Suffice it to say that he had knowledge of the principles of light, shadow and more complex light phenomena such as reflections and distortions. Van Eyck, in other words, arguably had command over both a rational method and practical knowledge on how light behaves in reality.

Italian contemporaries
In order to place Jan van Eyck's optical revolution in a broader perspective, his works are brought together with exceptional loans of Italian contemporaries such as Fra Angelico, Paolo Uccello, Pisanello, Masaccio and Benozzo Gozzoli. In contrast to Van Eyck, who painted in oils, the Italians worked with egg-based tempera. While Van Eyck carried out his innovations, the Italian painters experimented in turn with space and introduced mathematical perspective.

These developments caused painterly revolutions on both sides of the Alps and had a great impact on the Late-medieval notion of the painted image. It is highly exceptional that the works of artists from the North and the South are being exhibited alongside each other, and can be admired together.

In addition to the impressive series of works that are to be seen together for the first (and also for the last) time, some museums have taken the occasion to perform conservation and/or restoration treatments on the works that are being sent to the MSK. The result is that the public will get to see, in addition to the restored exterior panels of the Ghent Altarpiece, various other masterpieces in their original condition for the very first time.

Three works by Van Eyck received a treatment: 'Portrait of a Man ('Léal Souvenir' or Tymotheos)' from the National Gallery in London, 'Portrait of Baudouin de Lannoy' from the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin and the 'Turin-Milan Book of Hours' from the Museo Civico d'Arte Antica/Palazzo Madama in Turin, in which the only two surviving miniatures by the Master are preserved.

Today's News

April 13, 2020

Evolve or perish: Virus reshaping art auction market

Eli Wilner & Company offers museums a fully-funded frame restoration grant opportunity

Anne Frank's diary more relevant than ever, 75 years on

Museum of Fine Arts Ghent offers a virtual tour of the exhibition Van Eyck. An Optical Revolution

Massimo De Carlo launches Virtual Space: A new walkable and flexible immersive experience

Hundreds of Decorative Arts & Design fans join Lyon & Turnbull's auction from comfort of homes

Goodman Gallery digital programme brings 3D virtual gallery tours, and online exhibitions

Art To Stop Covid19: Charity auction to support healthcare staff in Italy

Ronald Lewis, preserver of New Orleans African American culture, dies at 68

Traditional Japanese seal system hampers telework for some

Steidl publishes 'Chris Killip: The Station'

Major, never performed Sir John Tavener work discovered by Grange Park Opera, Surrey

Don't box them in. Their dancing belongs to the world.

Latvian National Museum of Art presents virtual exhibition from its video art collection

Bach in my heart, and my heart in his hands

The Bass moblizes its virtual Instagram gallery to present video works from the collection

West Dean College launches short course tutor series by its arts and crafts experts

New South Wales artists sought for Sydney Metro art

Rizzoli publishes a visual autobiography of counterculture/street artist/entrepreneur Craig Costello AKA KR

The Parrish Art Museum offers workshops direct from the artist's studio

Manchester Museum uploads engaging digital content onto a mobile site

Daylight Books publishes 'Family Resemblance' by Eric Mueller

500 years ago, this port linked east to west. Its fate was to fade away.

Broadway benefit for pandemic assistance sunk by labor dispute

Silent streets for water festival in Myanmar lockdown

2020's Best Hacking Tools for Android Devices

The most common part that goes defective in your HVAC system

Museums, Exhibits, Artists, Milestones, Digital Art, Architecture, Photography,
Photographers, Special Photos, Special Reports, Featured Stories, Auctions, Art Fairs,
Anecdotes, Art Quiz, Education, Mythology, 3D Images, Last Week, .


Ignacio Villarreal
(1941 - 2019)
Editor & Publisher: Jose Villarreal
Art Director: Juan José Sepúlveda Ramírez
Writer: Ofelia Zurbia Betancourt

Truck Accident Attorneys
Accident Attorneys

Royalville Communications, Inc
Founder's Site. Hommage
to a Mexican poet.

The First Art Newspaper on the Net. The Best Versions Of Ave Maria Song Junco de la Vega Site Ignacio Villarreal Site Parroquia Natividad del Señor
Tell a Friend
Dear User, please complete the form below in order to recommend the Artdaily newsletter to someone you know.
Please complete all fields marked *.
Sending Mail
Sending Successful