CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Van Eyck: An Optical Revolution

1 February - 30 April 2020

Van Eyck: An Optical Revolution

Exhibition: 1 February - 30 April 2020

As part of the preventive measures taken to prevent the spread of the Corona virus, the exhibition ‘Van Eyck. An Optical Revolution’ exhibition will be closed to the public from March 13th until 19 April. See the exhibition website for the most up-to-date information.

Worldwide, only approximately twenty works by Van Eyck have been preserved. Quite exceptionally, over half of these will travel to Ghent in 2020 for the exhibition ‘Van Eyck. An optical revolution’ at the Museum of Fine Arts (MSK). In what promises to be an unmissable, tour de force of an exhibition, the world of Van Eyck and his revolutionary gaze will be brought to life like never before.

Jan van Eyck, Portrait of a Man with a Blue Chaperon, ca. 1430
Brukenthal National Museum, Sibiu

The outer panels of the Ghent Altarpiece

The eight of the closed Ghent Altarpiece lie at the heart of the exhibition. Between 2012 and 2016, the Royal Institute opanels f Art Heritage restored these panels in the MSK. In a highly exceptional loan we can display them together outside of Saint Bavo’s Cathedral, for the first and last time in history.

During the exhibition, the eight restored outer panels of the closed altarpiece, together with the not yet restored representations of Adam and Eve, return to the MSK one last time. The 10 remaining panels of the Ghent Altarpiece remain on display in St Bavo’s Cathedral.

This is the first and last time in history that these panels are allowed to feature in an exhibition. We’ll present them each individually and at eye level, so that visitors can admire the beautiful colors, exquisite details and tangible fabrics up close. In this one-off presentation, they are accompanied by at least half of Van Eyck’s works. After the exhibition, the outer panels will rejoin the interior panels in the kathedral, where they’ll stay indefinitely.

A thematic discovery

The outer panels of the Altarpiece and the other works by Van Eyck guide us through the exhibition. We’ll uncover the optical revolution through themes such as ‘Fall and Salvation’, ‘Space’, ‘Mother and Child’, ‘The Word of God’, ‘The Madonna in the church’, ‘The painted Sculpture’, ‘The individual’ or ‘The divine portrait’. Throughout the galleries we’ll bring Van Eyck together with over 100 masterpieces from his studio and by his greatest contemporaries and followers. To sketch the fine-meshed artistic context and the cross-pollination in the Burgundian Netherlands of the fifteenth century, all art forms are present: painting, miniature, drawing, sculpture and tapestry. No less than 13 galleries will be filled with the greatest art of the Late Middle Ages.

Jan van Eyck (ca. 1390-1441), <em>The Annunciation Diptych</em>, ca.1433-35 Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Jan van Eyck (ca. 1390-1441), The Annunciation Diptych, ca.1433-35
Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Italian masters

Finally, to place Van Eyck’s optical revolution in a broader perspective, we’ll also confront him with his great Italian contemporaries Gentile da Fabriano, Fra Angelico, Pisanello, Masaccio and Benozzo Gozzoli. At the very moment that Van Eyck was transforming oil painting in Flanders, his Florentine counterparts were creating their own revolution in tempera by developing the mathematical perspective. This direct comparison between Jan van Eyck and his Italian contemporaries has never been undertaken to this extent.


The exhibition was organized by Prof. dr. Maximiliaan Martens (UGent), Till-Holger Borchert (Director, Musea Brugge), Prof. dr. Jan Dumolyn (UGent), Johan De Smet (Curator, MSK Ghent) and Frederica Van Dam (Curator, MSK Ghent), with the assistance of Matthias Depoorter (MSK Ghent).

For more information visit the exhibition website or the website of MSK Ghent.

News about this exhibition