A New Look at a Van Eyck Masterpiece

Jan van Eyck and Workshop Assistant (Netherlandish, Maaseik ca. 1390–1441 Bruges). The Crucifixion; The Last Judgment, Ca. 1430. Oil on canvas, transferred from wood. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fletcher Fund, 1933

January 25–April 24, 2016

Exhibition Location: European Paintings, Gallery 624, 2nd floor

A New Look at a Van Eyck Masterpiece, a focus exhibition opening at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on January 25, 2016, will present the findings of a recent study of Jan van Eyck’s Crucifixion and Last Judgment paintings (ca. 1440–41). In a collaboration at the Met between Maryan Ainsworth, a Curator in the Department of European Paintings, and the Department of Paintings Conservation, these paintings and their frames have undergone technical investigations in an effort to solve long-standing mysteries about them. Whether the paintings were always intended as a diptych, or whether they were originally the wings of a triptych whose centerpiece has long disappeared, has been in question. The answer may be found not only in a closer look at the frames, but also in the relationship of the Metropolitan’s Crucifixion painting to a recently rediscovered drawing of the Crucifixion attributed to Jan van Eyck (ca. 1390-1441) that has been acquired by the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam, and will also be on view in the Met’s exhibition.

New infrared reflectography now affords an opportunity to compare the underdrawings of the Crucifixion and Last Judgment paintings with the Rotterdam drawing. In addition, X-radiography of the paintings’ frames has revealed another text, albeit very damaged and fragmentary, on the flat part of the frame beneath the gold overpaint. The text is in Flemish, in Gothic miniscule script, as opposed to the Latin pastiglia (raised lettering) on the interior cove of the two frames. This introduces new clues regarding the original form and function of the two paintings, as the exhibition will demonstrate.

An accompanying publication, An Eyckian Crucifixion Explored: Ten Essays on a Drawing, will present the views of leading scholars on the newly discovered Crucifixion drawing and its relationship to the Met’s painting. It will be published by the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum. Additional objects drawn from the Metropolitan’s Museum’s collection will be presented as contextual material and will include paintings by Fra Angelico and Pietro Lorenzetti, prints, a rosary bead, boxwood and ivory diptychs, illuminated manuscripts, enamelwork, and portrait medals.

The technical investigation of the Metropolitan’s Crucifixion and Last Judgment is part of a longer ongoing study of Van Eyck’s works, including the cleaning and restoration of the Ghent Altarpiece, one of the seminal works of Western European art, and a comprehensive study of the artist’s oeuvre through the Verona Project at the Institut royal du Patrimoine artistique (KIK/IRPA) in Brussels. A Sunday at the Met program on April 17, 2016, will present the findings of these groundbreaking investigations.

This small exhibition is the latest in a series of highly focused presentations initiated by the Museum’s Department of European Paintings as part of their technical investigations of key paintings in the Met collection. Another exhibition in the series, now on view, examines the creative process of Andrea del Sarto by looking closely at his Holy Family with the Young Saint John the Baptist. Previous exhibitions in the series have featured Cranach’s Saint Maurice and Goya’s portraits of the Altamira family. The purpose of these installations is to share the latest technical findings that have bearing on connoisseurship issues, such as attribution, dating, and artists’ methods, of the most important paintings in the Metropolitan Museum’s collections.

A New Look at a Van Eyck Masterpiece is organized by Maryan Ainsworth, Curator in the Department of European Paintings at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Additional information about the exhibition and its accompanying programs will be available on the Museum’s website, as well as on FacebookInstagram and Twitter using the hashtag #MetvanEyck.



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