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Van Eyck. An Optical Revolution

The largest Jan van Eyck exhibition ever

02.01 – 04.30.20

Van Eyck NL

From February 1st until March 12th 2020, the MSK hosted the largest Jan van Eyck exhibition in history. During these weeks, nearly 130,000 visitors came closer to Van Eyck than was ever possible before, but unfortunately the COVID-19 crisis forced us to close the exhibition earlier. You can find a retrospective on the Van Eyck website.

Visit Flanders and the MSK joined forces with Belgian virtual reality company Poppr, to develop an online 360° virtual tour of the Van Eyck galleries. Enter the largest Van Eyck exhibition ever directly from the comfort of your home! While scrolling through the 360° images, discover 13 museum galleries with over 120 masterpieces. The audio guide for adults or children is your personal guide through the exhibition.

VISIT FLANDERS also filmed a guided visit with Till-Holger Borchert, Director of the Museums Bruges and one of the curators of the exhibition. Discover with him some of the masterpieces on display in Ghent. Take the virtual tour here!

More Van Eyck than ever

Worldwide, only approximately twenty works by Van Eyck have been preserved. Quite exceptionally, over half of these traveled to Ghent in 2020 for the exhibition ‘Van Eyck. An optical revolution’ at the Museum of Fine Arts (MSK).

The centrepieces of the exhibition were 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 returned to the museum, where they have been united with other works by Van Eyck for the very first time. To contextualise the optical revolution he inspired, Van Eyck’s paintings were shown alongside works by his most talented peers.

Between the court and the city
Jan van Eyck was court painter for Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy (1396-1467). The flamboyant duke and his entourage surrounded themselves with the best artists. At the same time, the Flemish cities of Ghent and Bruges were prospering as trading centres. Wealthy merchants and politicians mirrored the pomp and circumstance of the courts and were in turn buyers of luxury goods. This was Jan van Eyck’s creative environment, between the court and the city, between art and métier.

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 played 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 have had 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 have been 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 focused on the artistic similarities and differences between their works, thus delving deeper into the historical context in which they were created.

‘Van Eyck. An optical revolution’ unraveled the myths about the artist and considers his technique, his oeuvre and his influence from a fresh perspective. This exhibition has awoken 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.

A first peek…
The exhibition brought around 80 late medieval works to Ghent. Painting, miniature art, sculpture and drawings were placed next to and opposite each other to bring the medieval world of Van Eyck to life. For this the MSK worked in close collaboration with (inter)national partners.

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’.

This exhibition was made possible thanks to close collaboration with the City of Ghent, St Bavo's Cathedral, Flanders Tourism Board, the Flemish Community - Department of Culture, Youth and Media, the Department of Arts of UGent, the Henri Pirenne Institute for Medieval Studies of UGent and the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK/IRPA).