“Many exhibitions claim to be a once in a generation experience: this one will be.” – New Statesman
“Like nothing seen before.” – Christies
“A world stunt … This exhibition should not be missed by any Belgian.” – Het Nieuwsblad
The outer panels of the Ghent Altarpiece
The eight outer panels of the closed Ghent Altarpiece were at the heart of the exhibition. Between 2012 and 2016, the Royal Institute opanels f Art Heritage restored these panels in the MSK. In a highly exceptional loan we displayed them together outside of Saint Bavo’s Cathedral, for the first and last time in history.
During the exhibition, the eight restored outer panels of the closed altarpiece, together with the not yet restored representations of Adam and Eve, returned to the MSK one last time. The 10 remaining panels of the Ghent Altarpiece remained on display in St Bavo’s Cathedral.
This was the first and last time in history that these panels were allowed to feature in an exhibition. We’ve presented them each individually and at eye level, so that visitors could admire the beautiful colors, exquisite details and tangible fabrics up close. In this one-off presentation, they were accompanied by at least half of Van Eyck’s works. After the exhibition, the outer panels rejoined the interior panels in the cathedral, where they’ll stay indefinitely.
A thematic discovery
The outer panels of the Altarpiece and the other works by Van Eyck guided us through the exhibition. The optical revolution was uncovered through themes such as ‘Fall and Salvation’, ‘Space’, ‘Mother and Child’, ‘The Word of God’, ‘The Madonna in the church’, ‘The painted Sculpture’, ‘The individual’ or ‘The divine portrait’. Throughout the galleries Van Eyck was brought together with over 100 masterpieces from his studio and by his greatest contemporaries and followers. To sketch the fine-meshed artistic context and the cross-pollination in the Burgundian Netherlands of the fifteenth century, all art forms were present: painting, miniature, drawing, sculpture and tapestry. No less than 13 galleries were filled with the greatest art of the Late Middle Ages.
Finally, Van Eyck’s optical revolution was placed in a broader perspective, by confronting him with his great Italian contemporaries Gentile da Fabriano, Fra Angelico, Pisanello, Masaccio and Benozzo Gozzoli. At the very moment that Van Eyck was transforming oil painting in Flanders, his Florentine counterparts were creating their own revolution in tempera by developing the mathematical perspective. This direct comparison between Jan van Eyck and his Italian contemporaries had never been undertaken to this extent.