An exceptional loan from the National Gallery in London is being restored for next year’s ‘Van Eyck’ exhibition in Ghent (Belgium)

An exceptional loan from the National Gallery in London is being restored for next year’s ‘Van Eyck’ exhibition in Ghent (Belgium)

On 1 February 2020, the exhibition 'Van Eyck. An Optical Revolution' is opening at the Museum of Fine Arts Ghent (MSK). The exhibition will bring visitors closer to the genius of this Flemish Master than ever before, as it presents at least half of the existing works by Jan van Eyck – more than ever shown together in a single exhibition – alongside over 100 other medieval masterpieces.

Two months prior to the opening, the museum is announcing the final list of works by Van Eyck and his workshop that will travel to Ghent next year. Amongst them is an exceptional loan from the National Gallery in London. It is with great pride that the MSK can confirm the exhibition will include Jan van Eyck's 'Portrait of a Man (Léal souvenir)', one of the three Van Eycks in the National Gallery’s collection. Paintings by the Master are rarely allowed to leave the museums where they are held, and that certainly holds true for 'Portrait of a Man (Léal souvenir)'. Moreover, the masterpiece is currently undergoing restoration especially for the occasion, so its appearance in Belgium will constitute an absolute world premiere. 

The portrait from the National Gallery will play a key function in the Ghent exhibition. It was dated by Van Eyck himself on 10 October 1432, making it the earliest dated painting in the entire oeuvre of the Master along with the Ghent Altarpiece. The ‘Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’ – more commonly referred to as the Ghent Altarpiece and Van Eyck’s world renowned masterpiece – was also unveiled in 1432. The exterior panels of the Altarpiece will feature in the exhibition and will be presented alongside the ‘Portrait of a man’. Together they reveal how the year 1432 was a turning point in Western painting.

Mysterious portrait
The figure in 'Portrait of a Man' stares out before him with clear, blue eyes, holding a folded document with illegible text in one of his hands. The portrait is shrouded in mystery because of both the puzzling inscription it contains and the fact that we still don’t know who the sitter was. Over the years, various figures have been connected to the man portrayed. The exhibition harks back to an old hypothesis that connects the figure to antiquity. The Greek inscription TYM.ΩθΕΟΣ (Tymotheos), which features on the portrait as if carved in a stone parapet, could refer to Tymotheos of Miletes, the court musician of Alexander the Great. We know that Van Eyck's employer, Duke Philip the Good, mirrored himself upon this famed conqueror. Thus, the hypothesis is that the man in the portrait is none other than Gilles Binchois, the well-known court singer of the Duke and a respected colleague of Van Eyck. In turn, Jan van Eyck himself may in this same vein have been denoted as Apelles, the court painter of Alexander the Great.

Exceptional restoration
Following its decision to loan the 'Portrait of a Man (Léal souvenir)' to the Ghent museum, The National Gallery exceptionally also chose to have the work undergo restoration. By removing the yellowed varnish the painting dazzles once more as it did in Jan van Eyck's time. It will be presented to the public in its refreshed form next year. The visitors to the exhibition 'Van Eyck. An Optical Revolution' will in this way be presented with a truly exceptional portrait gallery. The restored donors' portraits of the patrons of the 'Ghent Altarpiece', the restored 'Portrait of Baudouin de Lannoy' (Berlin), itself also a world premiere, and the National Gallery painting will be on show, all as only Van Eycks contemporaries had the privilege of seeing them almost six centuries ago. This further increases the once-in-a-lifetime nature of the exhibition.
Miniature art
In addition, the exhibition also focuses on the relationship between Jan van Eyck and fifteenth-century miniatures. In the medieval illuminated manuscripts included in the show we can recognise the same eye for the smallest of details and the same fine style of painting as can be seen in Van Eyck's own work. The possible connection between Van Eyck and the art of miniature painting has already extensively been dealt with in art-historical literature. However, never before was the theme illustrated on this scale within an exhibition. The British Library is lending two exceptional 15th-century illuminated manuscripts to the exhibition, amongst which the ‘Egerton Book of Hours’. They will be joining a number of other manuscripts, including ‘Turin-Milan Book of Hours’ in which a handful of miniatures are attributed to Van Eyck himself.
The masterpieces by Jan van Eyck
With this press release, the MSK is announcing the final list of works by Van Eyck and workshop that will be exhibited. With at least half of the remaining panel paintings and an illustrated 'book of hours' by the hand of the Flemish Master, one has never seen more Van Eycks in one place. The works belong to collections in the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Romania, Austria and the United States of America.
At the heart of the exhibition are the eight restored outer panels of the closed Ghent Altarpiece – and in the MSK’s list these only count as one painting! – an extremely exceptional loan from St Bavo's Cathedral in Ghent. Never before were these panels assembled together outside of the cathedral alongside other works by Van Eyck and his contemporaries. Moreover, after 2020, they shall never leave the cathedral again, making ‘Van Eyck. An Optical Revolution’ the one and only chance to admire them in a broader context.

The list of masterpieces by Van Eyck is as following:
• Jan and Hubert van Eyck, The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb (The Ghent Altarpiece), 1432 (outer panels of the closed Altarpiece) St Bavo's Cathedral, Ghent
o The Archangel Gabriel and the Prophet Zachariah
o City-view and the Sybil of Eritrea, with Adam on the verso
o Interior and the Sybil of Cumae, with Eve on the verso
o The Prophet Micah and the Virgin of the Annunciation
o Joos Vijd
o John the Baptist
o John the Evangelist
o Elisabeth Borluut
• Jan van Eyck, The Madonna at the Fountain, 1439
Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp
• Jan van Eyck, Portrait of Baudouin de Lannoy, ca 1435
Gemäldegalerie der Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin
• Jan van Eyck, The Annunciation Diptych, c. 1433-1435
Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid
• Jan van Eyck, Portrait of a Man with Blue Chaperon, c. 1428-1430
Museul National Brukenthal, Sibiu (Romania)
• Jan van Eyck, St Barbara of Nicomedia, 1437
Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp
• Jan van Eyck, The Annunciation, c. 1434-1436
Andrew W. Mellon Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
• Jan van Eyck, The Turin-Milan Book of Hours, c. 1420-1440
Palazzo Madama, Turin
• Jan van Eyck, St Francis Receives the Stigmata, c. 1430-1432
Philadelphia Museum of Art, John G. Johnson Collection, 1917
• Jan van Eyck, Portrait of a Man (Léal souvenir, or Tymotheos), 1432
The National Gallery, London
• Jan van Eyck, Portrait of Jan de Leeuw, 1436
Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna, Gemäldegalerie
The list of works by Jan van Eyck and workshop:
• Jan van Eyck and workshop, The Madonna at the Fountain, c. 1440
Private Collection
• Jan van Eyck and workshop, The Crucifixion, c. 1430
Gemäldegalerie der Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin
• Jan van Eyck and workshop, The Crucifixion, c. 1445
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam
• Jan van Eyck (workshop), The Three Marys at the Tomb, c. 1440
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam
• Jan van Eyck (workshop), St Jerome in his Study, c. 1442
Detroit Institute of Art
• Jan van Eyck (workshop), The Crucifixion, c. 1445
Galleria Giorgio Franchetti alla Ca' d'Oro, Venezia
• Jan van Eyck (workshop), The Twelve Apostles, c. 1445
Grafische Sammlung Albertina, Wien
• Jan van Eyck (workshop), Portrait of a Man with a Chaperon, fifteenth century Musée du Louvre, Département des Arts Graphiques, Paris
Press release 28.11.2019
Never before have this many works by Van Eyck been brought together. To this highly impressive list the MSK is also adding fifteenth and sixteenth-century copies of paintings by Van Eyck of which the original has been lost over time, and over 100 masterpieces by contemporaries and followers of the Master. These will be spread over no less than 13 museum galleries.

An exhibition not to be missed
'Van Eyck. An Optical Revolution' is without a doubt an absolute once-in-a-lifetime experience. The exhibition unravels the myths surrounding the artist and places his revolutionary technique, his oeuvre and his influence in a new perspective. It seeks to evoke a sense of awe within the visitor comparable only to what his contemporaries must have experienced when they first saw his art.
Tickets are now on sale via the website: The museum has space for 240.000 visitors in total and more than 40.000 fans have already purchased their ticket. Early deciders receive a presale discount, paying a maximum of 25 euros per ticket instead of 28 euros during the exhibition. The multi-lingual audio guide is included in the price.
Information and contacts
• 'Van Eyck. An Optical Revolution', 01.02.2020-30.04.2020
• Museum of Fine Arts Ghent, F. Scribedreef 1, B-9000 Ghent
• Info and tickets:
• Scientific committee: Till-Holger Borchert (Director Musea Brugge), Prof. dr. Jan Dumolyn (Ghent University) and Prof. dr. Maximiliaan Martens (Ghent University)
• Johan De Smet, MSK, Head of the Project, tel. +32(0)9 323 67 41, email
• Soetkin Bruneel, MSK, Press and Communications, tel. +32(0)9 323 67 16/ +32(0)476 60 08 96, email
• Karen Rodts, MSK, Communications, +32(0)9 323 67 80/ +32(0)474 82 80 39, email
• Peggy Hobbels, MSK, Events, Trade, Partnerships and Sponsoring, tel. +32(0)9 323 67 80, email
• For practical questions regarding the exhibition visit, you can contact +32(0)9 210 10 75 or

This exhibition is made possible by the close collaboration with the Flemish Community -- Department of Culture, Youth & Media, the City of Ghent, Visit Flanders, St Bavo's Cathedral, the Ghent University Art Historical Department, the Henri Pirenne Institute for Medieval Studies at Ghent University, the Flemish Research Centre for the Arts in Burgundian Netherlands, and the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA).

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