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Workshop: Knowledge, Network, and Society in the Age of Van Eyck

16 December 2022

Workshop: Knowledge, Network, and Society in the Age of Van Eyck

Research Conference: 16 December 2022

‘Knowledge, Network, and Society in the Age of Van Eyck’, organized in collaboration with the Henri Pirenne Institute, the Museum of Fine Arts Ghent (MSK), Suermondt Ludwig Museum Aachen, Onderzoeksalliantie Stadsgeschiedenis UGent-VUB, Vrienden van het MSK and the Faculty of Arts and Philosophy of Ghent University, takes place in Ghent on 16 December 2022. In this one-day workshop, young researchers and established academics will shed their light on new research questions that have arisen in the aftermath of the Van Eyck. Een optische revolutie exhibition (Ghent, 2020). The organizers warmly invite all those interested to join the workshop, which will take place at the Ghent Museum of Fine Arts (MSK).

Knowledge, Network, and Society in the Age of Van Eyck

Research conducted in the context of the ongoing long-term conservation and restoration project of Jan van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece, and in preparation of the exhibition ‘Van Eyck: an Optical Revolution’ (MSK, 2020), has yielded vital new knowledge and has opened up further avenues for advanced art-historical scholarship.

Firstly, as the first pictor doctus in the North, Jan Van Eyck was knowledgeable about antique texts, natural sciences (optics, alchemy) and theology. At the heart of his theoretical knowledge lies the metaphysical interpretation of contemporary optical theory as a gateway to understanding God’s creation (‘Visio Dei’). This finding now raises the need for the meticulous reconstruction of the intellectual profile of Van Eyck and other contemporary artists. This requires an in-depth study of learning at the Burgundian court and of the culture of the urban elite and guild milieus to which the artists were connected.

The central research question is how and through whom did Jan Van Eyck and his contemporaries accumulate their scientific and theological knowledge?

Secondly, recent discoveries concerning Van Eyck’s provenance, as well as on his workshop in Bruges, raise questions about the artist’s background and early life in the Meuse region, as well as on his embeddedness within local artistic and patronage networks, and how this may have informed his artistic practice.

Thirdly, the discovery of large areas of overpaint during the current conservation/restoration project of the Ghent Altarpiece made it clear that during the 16th century changed reception altered not only the original appearance of the polyptych, but also its meaning. More specifically, the unexpected revelation of the original humanoid face of the Mystic Lamb has stunned the art world and spurred debate among scholars and art critics on the meaning of both the original appearance and the reasons for its later overpainting. Considering that in the past decades, art historians have become increasingly sensitive to the materiality of the transmission and reception of Early Netherlandish paintings, researchers are therefore challenged to investigate how changes and adaptations were triggered and informed by shifting religious, political, theoretical and artistic

The present workshop (which will be hosted in a hybrid format) will bring together established experts and early career scholars, providing a forum on which they can shed light on these particular research demands and opportunities, and exchange new results. Considering the overwhelming international attention for the humanoid Mystic Lamb and its later alterations, the workshop will also provide a stimulating interdisciplinary panel discussion on this topic at which leading scholars from various (art historical, historical, and philosophical) backgrounds will be able to collectively confront the problem head on and present their hypotheses.

Among the speakers are Jan Dumolyn,Joannes van den Maagdenberg, Jan Verheyen, Stephan Kemperdick, Mathijs Speecke, Céline Talon, Astrid Harth, Maryan Ainsworth, Hélène Dubois, and Geert Van der Snickt. The afternoon ends in a panel discussion with Maryan Ainsworth, Till-Holger Borchert, Emma Capron, Koenraad Jonckheere, Danny Praet, Jan van der Stock.

Download the program (in PDF)

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