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Flemish text on the frame of Van Eyck’s diptych in the Metropolitan Museum introduces new clues regarding the original form and function of the two paintings

The Metropolitan Museum of Art will present the findings of a recent study of Jan van Eyck’s Crucifixion and Last Judgment paintings in an upcoming focus exhibition. In a collaboration at the Met between Maryan Ainsworth, Curator in the Department of European Paintings, and the Department of Paintings Conservation, these paintings and their frames have undergone technical investigations in an effort to solve long-standing mysteries about them. Whether the paintings were always intended as a diptych, or whether they were originally the wings of a triptych whose centerpiece has long disappeared, has been in question. The answer may be found not only in a closer look at the frames, but also in the relationship of the Metropolitan’s Crucifixion painting to a recently rediscovered drawing of the Crucifixion attributed to Jan van Eyck (ca. 1390-1441) that has been acquired by Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, and will also be on view in the exhibition.

New infrared reflectography now affords an opportunity to compare the underdrawings of the Crucifixion and Last Judgment paintings with the Rotterdam drawing. In addition, X-radiography of the paintings’ frames has revealed another text, albeit very damaged and fragmentary, on the flat part of the frame beneath the gold overpaint. The text is in Flemish, in Gothic miniscule script, as opposed to the Latin pastiglia (raised lettering) on the interior cove of the two frames. This introduces new clues regarding the original form and function of the two paintings, as the exhibition will demonstrate.


An accompanying publication, An Eyckian Crucifixion Explored: Ten Essays on a Drawing, will present the views of leading scholars on the newly discovered Crucifixion drawing and its relationship to the Met’s painting. It will be published by Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. Additional objects drawn from the Metropolitan’s Museum’s collection will be presented as contextual material and will include paintings by Fra Angelico and Pietro Lorenzetti, prints, a rosary bead, boxwood and ivory diptychs, illuminated manuscripts, enamelwork, and portrait medals


The focus exhibition A New Look at a Van Eyck Masterpiece (25 January – 24 April 2016) is organized by Maryan Ainsworth, Curator in the Department of European Paintings at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.


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