The Louvre has decided to dedicate the first spotlight exhibition to be held in the Salle de la Chapelle since 2014 to Jan van Eyck’s masterpiece, the Madonna of Chancellor Rolin. ‘A New Look on Van Eyck. Madonna of Chancellor Rolin'(Revoir Van Eyck. La Vierge du chancelier Rolin) is intended as a public celebration of the impressive conservation work carried out on the painting at the Center for Research and Restoration of the Museums of France – the first intervention of its kind since the painting entered the museum in 1800.
The conservators removed the layers of oxidized varnish that had darkened the painting, restoring the work to its former glory. This intervention ties in with the current interest in studying and promoting Van Eyck’s oeuvre, following the conservation treatment of the Ghent Altarpiece. For almost ten years now, a number of international and cross-disciplinary exchanges have led experts to raise many new questions on the subject. Laboratory analysis, conservation work and new approaches to the work of Van Eyck have also challenged the Louvre’s previous assumptions about this painting, long known as the Virgin of Autun.
Many aspects of this painting – less well known than it should be for such a major work of Western art – are difficult to understand, so the exhibition will be built around a series of questions designed to draw the viewer in: why did Van Eyck create this unusual work for Nicolas Rolin? Why is the background landscape so miniaturized as to be almost invisible? How should we interpret the two small figures in the garden? What are the connections between this painting, the art of illumination and funerary bas-reliefs? Do we know how the artists of the fifteenth century interpreted the scene?
The Rolin Madonna illustrates the tensions between medieval tradition and revolutionary experimentation that pervaded Flemish art in the first third of the fifteenth century. Yet, exhibiting Van Eyck’s work alongside that of his contemporaries allows us to make some telling comparisons which help pinpoint his work’s originality as much as its belonging to a particular era, and enhance our understanding of the exchanges between Van Eyck and other artists of his day.
Our investigation of the Madonna of Chancellor Rolin will be driven by comparison with other paintings by Van Eyck and with works by Rogier van der Weyden, Robert Campin and the great illuminators of the time. Some sixty painted panels, manuscripts, drawings, bas-reliefs and precious metal artifacts will be brought together for this exhibition, made possible by the support of many museums and institutions in France and abroad, including the Städel Museum in Frankfurt (which is lending the Lucca Madonna for the first time), the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin, the Royal Library in Brussels, the Morgan Library & Museum in New York and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The exhibition is curated by Sophie Caron, Curator in the Department of Paintings, Musée du Louvre.