No other painter in the history of European art was able to convey the details of the visible world with the same level of brilliance and precision as the founder of early Netherlandish painting, Jan van Eyck (ca. 1390/1400–1441). Now, an interactive digital projection at Berlin’s Gemäldegalerie enables visitors to delve into the most minute aspects of his masterpieces. In a second section oft the exhibition, nine Eyckian works oft he Gemäldegalerie are presented. Additionally, the results of technological investigation and restoration work carried out on some of these works are presented.
An Interactive Projection
The exhibition in the central hall of the Gemäldegalerie revolves around multiple digital projections of the works of Jan van Eyck that were developed by Bozar – Center for Fine Arts and the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA) in Brussels. The projections allow visitors to interactively “zoom in” from the overall view of the paintings onto the smallest details, choosing which sections to focus in on. The wall-sized enlargements reveal minute details of the works in high resolution. Elements such as eyes, mouths or hands can be compared with one another, allowing visitors to delve into minute details of his paintings, from tiny hairs or pupils of the figures to individual brushstrokes of the master.
The projections are generated from extremely high-resolution photos of the 33 preserved paintings by Van Eyck and by his immediate successors, which were produced as part of the project Van Eyck Research in OpeN Access (VERONA), carried out by the KIK-IRPA between 2014 and 2020. Twenty of these works, considered to have been made by Van Eyck himself, were included in this interactive presentation.
The Berlin Collection of Originals by Van Eyck
Alongside this presentation, the Gemäldegalerie is showing its collection of paintings by Jan van Eyck and his circle. With three undisputed panel paintings made by the hand of the master, two paintings that at least originate from Van Eyck’s studio, and four early copies, the Gemäldegalerie is home to an unusually rich collection of works by and after Jan van Eyck. The interplay of the high-resolution projections with the original paintings generates a new kind of fascination with his brilliant paintings and their impressive wealth of detail.
The Restoration of the Berlin Paintings
A third section of the exhibition sheds light on the technological investigations and restoration work carried out on three of the Van Eycks at the Gemäldegalerie. The systematic technological investigation of the works commenced in 2015 as part of the production of a scholarly catalogue of the Gemäldegalerie’s collection of Netherlandish and French paintings of the fifteenth century. This catalogue, which for the very first time provides comprehensive access to Berlin’s outstanding collection of early paintings, was compiled by art historians and paintings conservators as part of an interdisciplinary collaboration. Its publication date is planned for early 2024.
Recent conservation work carried out on paintings by Van Eyck in Berlin focused on a painting depicting the Crucifixion of Christ from the studio of the master as well as two autograph works: the Portrait of Badouin de Lannoy and Portrait of a Young man in a Red Chaperon. The restorations involved removing heavily discolored varnishes and overpaintings that had been applied in the past. Thanks to this work, the paintings have regained much of their original colour and vibrancy.
Zoom on Van Eyck: Masterpieces in Detail is curated by Stephan Kemperdick, curator for pre-1600 German, Dutch and French painting, and Sandra Stelzig, conservator at the Gemäldegalerie.