Van Eyck in Bruges

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Walk in Bruges – Your private guide in Bruges

The museum reopened again on May 18th, the exhibiton has been extended till September 6th. You need to make reservations before your visit on the website of Musea Brugge.

You have probably heard about the great Van Eyck exhibition in the MSK in Gent this year and you might even have visited this exhibiton before it prematurely closed because of the corona pandemic.

On March 12th a second Van Ecyk exhibition opened in the Groeningemuseum in Bruges focusing on two paintings by Jan Van Eyck. I visited the exhibition two days before it closed because of the corona epidemic en and the consequent lockdown in Belgium. The exhibition runs until July 12th, so chances are that the museum will open again before the end of the exhibition or that the exhibition will be prolonged. For those who did not get a chance to visit the exhibition on its first 3 days of opening I will try to give you a feel of what is on show in the Groeningemuseum of Bruges.

The museum built the exhibition around two important paintings of Jan van Eyck in its collection. The portret of his wife Margareta and the painting Madonna with Canon Joris Van der Paele.

Van Eyck lived in Bruges from 1430 until his death in 1441. His house has beel located at the Gouden Handstraat number 6 in Brugge next to the canal the Gouden Handrei. Although he lived in the Sint-Gillis quarter, he was buried in the ducal Saint-Donations cathedral. His grave dissapeared when the church was demolisched during the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century. Van Eyck was a court painter for the Burgundian duke Philip the Good. In Bruges Van Eyck could paint for many other wealthy customers, no doubt an important reason why the painter moved to Bruges.

The exhibition focuses on the lifestyle of the painter, where he lived and worked in Bruges, how he planned his paintings and how he often made radical changes during working.

The exhibition makes a detailed study of the largest single painting by Van Eyck, Madonna with Canon Joris Van der Paele. The painting is made on 5 panels put together to get a large painting. On a multimedia screen you can dive into the painting. De screen enables you to enlarge several details of the painting and read extra information on each detail. Van Eyck even painted a reflection of himself on the armor of Saint George, the patron saint of the canon. The painting is packed with symbolic meaning. The painting is, like the portret of his wife Margareta, preserved in its original frame. On the wooden frame the painter painted text that identifies the characters in the painting and he also signed his work on the frame. Via infrared reflectography the underlying drawing can be seen, which in some places differs from the final painting. In the original drawing the left hand of Mary holds the parakeet, but in the final painting her left hand holds the flowers baby Jesus gives her.

In front of this large painting the museum placed a comfortable bench, to lean back and enjoy or study the painting.

You learn about the life and career of Canon Joris Van der Paele, who worked closely with the Pope in Rome at a time when the catholic church was facing some trubulent times, and Europa had two popes. He came from a reputed family of brokers. He paid a large sum of money to have himself painted for eternity before he died. The memorial painting was meant for the Saint-Donations church where he was a canon and advisor to the Burgundian dukes, and where he was buried. The painting is like a showcase of luxury goods; tiles from Spain, a handmade Middle-Eastern carpet, gold brocate, pearls, gems, fur, crystal glass, expensive texiltes and manuscripts.

The portret he made of his wife in 1439, was quite unique at the time because only nobles and royals had their portrets made in the 15th century. In this exhibition you can also see the back of the panel which Van Eyck decorated with red marbling. On the frame we see the inscription ‘My husband Johannes completed me’. There was possibly once a now lost self-portrait of the painter that served as a pendant to this one.

A third anonymous painting from around 1450 recently acquired by the museum is on show. Madonna with child is contributed to the Van Eyck workshop or to a follower of Jan van Eyck. We notice a lot of resemblence with paintings by Van Eyck. The brocade patterns, Mary’s head with wavy hair, the blue dress beneath a red cloack, the throne, the folds of Mary’s cloack. The painter must have had access to Jan van Eyck’s model drawings.

Van Eyck not only painted on panels, he gilded and polychromed (painted) for instance six statues on the facade of the city hall in Bruges.

The Van Eyck exhibition takes up the first two rooms of the museum. The rest of the museum has been refurbished, and here you find an overview of the history of Belgian art, with top-class paintings by other world-renowned Flemish primitives amongst other masterpieces.

The following rooms are dedicated to the Flemish Primitive painters Hans Memling, the anonymous painters ‘Master of the legend of Saint Ursula’ and ‘Master of the legend of Saint Lucy’, Jan Provoost and Gerard David. The museum has some very important and beautiful works of these painters in its collection. The Annunciation and the Moreel Triptych by Hans Memling.

The legend of Saint Ursula, Saint Veronica and the Diptych with three donors and Virgin and child by te Master of the Legend of Saint-Ursula.

The Martyrdom of Saint-Catharine, Death and Miser by Jan Provoost and the Judgement of Cambyses and the Baptism of Christ by Gerard David.

The museum shows the Last Judgement by Jheronimus Bosch, serveral works by Pieter Pourbus and Lanceloot Blondeel all renaissance painters, works by Fernand Khnopff, Paul Delvaux, Magritte and Roger Raveel.

The museum is rather small compared to other museum in Gent, Brussels, Paris of London, but its intimate atmosphere is also its attraction. Its size makes for a balanced visit, and you can take your time for each painting in the musem without needing several days to cover the whole museum. A full morning or afternoon can satisfy any art lover.

Once the corona pandemic is under control, and the museum re-opens again, this exhibition is a great alternative for the prematurely closed exhibition: ‘Van Eyck, an optical revolution’ in Gent.

This year another exhibition on Hans Memling is planned in the Saint-Johns hospital and can be a great addition to the visit of the Groeningemuseum.

The Groeningemuseum has put some of the videofragments of the exhibiton online. (only in Dutch)

The Groeningemuseum put a virtual 360° virtual tour online of the refurbished museum via this link.

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