Information from the curator, 9 November 2016
The in-focus-display, Image and Substance acts as both a welcome and an introduction to St Luke Drawing the Virgin and Child, an exceptional 15th century painting attributed to the workshop of Dieric Bouts the Elder. This follows a scientific investigation project led by the Conservation department at the National Gallery in London.
The painting is of major importance due to its connection with the artist, deemed one of the leading and most influential Netherlandish painters of his time. Dieric Bouts the Elder is in fact considered, together with Hans Memling, the most important follower of Rogier van der Weyden.
Bouts’ works are rare in general and especially in the UK. In addition, there are no other paintings of this date and origin depicting this important subject in British public collections by Bouts or any other northern European artist of this period.
Following an export bar it was acquired in July 2016 with support from Art Fund, Heritage Lottery Fund and a number of private donors, totalling £2,290,650. The Bowes Museum is embarking on an innovative partnership with York Art Gallery and Bristol Museum & Art Gallery, each with their own excellent Old Master collections, to deliver a diverse and exciting activity programme surrounding the painting which is included in the above sum.
‘Image and Substance’ focuses on the iconographic and visual relevance of the painting, offering an insight into the Netherlands’ artistic, historical, and devotional context. At the same time, it will also examine the painting’s technique and style, and will be complemented by video footage of the National Gallery’s investigations.
Bernadette Petti, Assistant Keeper of Fine Art at The Bowes Museum, said: “This was a popular devotional subject during the Renaissance, especially in the Netherlands, based on the legend of the apostle and evangelist St Luke depicting the Virgin with the Christ Child. However, this outstanding painting is not only a significant 15th century Netherlandish devotional and art historical subject, it also reveals important insights on the workshop practice and the changing status of the artist at that time.”
“More than five hundred years after its production, this painting preserves intact the superb quality of pure and saturated colour nuances that give depth and translucency to the different textures,” she added. “This painting will have a significant place in the collection of The Bowes Museum, and it will represent a major addition to the extraordinary cultural heritage of the region: its great interest and European importance will enhance future opportunities for the research community to investigate late medieval and early modern European culture, considering also the social and cultural interactions between the cities of the North East and the Low Countries during the Middle Ages. In addition, it will inspire the regional audience and the wider cultural tourism.”