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An optical revolution

Worldwide, only approximately twenty works by Van Eyck have been preserved. Quite exceptionally, over half of these will travel to Ghent in 2020 for the exhibition ‘Van Eyck. An optical revolution’ at the Museum of Fine Arts (MSK). In what promises to be an unmissable, tour de force of an exhibition, the world of Van Eyck and his revolutionary gaze will be brought to life like never before.

The centrepieces of the exhibition are the outer panels of ‘The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’. These were restored in the MSK by the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage between 2012 and 2016. In a highly exceptional loan they will return to the museum in 2020, where they’ll be united with other works by Van Eyck for the very first time.

Jan en Hubert van Eyck, The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, 1432 (outer panels)
St Bavo’s Cathedral, Ghent
© www.lukasweb.be - Art in Flanders vzw

To contextualise the optical revolution he inspired, Van Eyck’s paintings will be shown alongside works by his most talented peers from Germany, France, Italy and Spain. ‘Van Eyck. An optical revolution’ is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and one of the absolute highlights of Ghent’s 2020 Van Eyck theme year.

The pinnacle of Late Medieval art

Van Eyck distinguished himself from his peers and triggered an optical revolution. With his matchless technique, scientific knowledge and unrivalled observational skills, he elevated oil painting to unprecedented heights and determined the future course of Western art. Never before had a painter made reality so tangible: all that seems to be missing from his portraits is his subjects’ breath, while his landscapes reveal the world in all its facets. Van Eyck trained his eye on the tiniest details before casting it wide again to create unforgettable panoramas.

His masterpiece, ‘The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’ (1432, St Bavo’s Cathedral, Ghent), bears witness to all three of these qualities. The restoration of the outer wings of the altarpiece will play a central role in the exhibition. Undertaken by the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK), the project commenced at the Museum of Fine Arts Ghent in 2012. Visitors will have the opportunity to get close to the work and admire the spectacular results.

In dialogue with Van Eyck’s contemporaries

In order to contextualise Van Eyck’s optical revolution, his paintings will be shown alongside works by his most talented contemporaries from Germany, France, Italy and Spain. These artists also moved in exalted circles and received prestigious commissions. The exhibition focuses on the artistic similarities and differences between their works, thus delving deeper into the historical context in which they were created.

Michele Giambono, Portrait of a man
c. 1430-40
Musei di Strada Nuova - Palazzo Rosso

‘Van Eyck. An optical revolution’ unravels the myths about the artist and considers his technique, his oeuvre and his influence from a fresh perspective. This exhibition will awaken a sense of wonder among visitors, comparable to that which people would have felt when they saw his works for the first time: a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

OMG! A theme year and a visitors centre

In 2020, Ghent is honouring its great Flemish Master. During the theme year ‘OMG! Van Eyck was here’, the city will reveal how Van Eyck has left his mark on Ghent, six centuries on. We must not forget that the Ghent Altarpiece is so much more than a piece of world heritage. It is a living icon that continues to fascinate and inspire. Van Eyck’s legacy permeates the city and forms part of its DNA. Generation after generation, Van Eyck continues to inspire new masters, whose works we are proudly putting in the spotlight in 2020. Visual arts, theatre, dance, design, fashion, gastronomy, music and even shopping … For a whole year, everything in the city will bask in the glow of Van Eyck and his impressive masterpiece.   Come to Ghent. Van Eyck was here. And will be here to stay. Will you?

Furthermore, later in 2020 a new visitors’ centre will open its doors at St Bavo’s Cathedral. A combination of original art treasures and modern presentation techniques will be used to highlight the story behind the centuries’ old polyptych made by the van Eyck brothers and the multiple messages conveyed by the ‘Ghent Altarpiece’.

Visit Flanders supports both the exhibition and the new visitor center in St. Bavo’s Cathedral as a project within the Flemish Masters program. With this programme around Rubens, Bruegel and Van Eyck, Visit Flanders and its partners want to bring 3 million cultural added value seekers from all over the world to Flanders.

A first peek…

The exhibition brings about 80 late medieval works to Ghent. Painting, miniature art, sculpture and drawings are placed next to and opposite each other to bring the medieval world of Van Eyck to life. For this the MSK works in close collaboration with (inter)national partners. We are already highlighting the veil here, with a few eye-catching loans. In the coming months, keep an eye on the website for more news!