In 2020, the Museum of Fine Arts (MSK) in Ghent pays tribute to Jan van Eyck (ca. 1390-1441) with the exhibition ‘Van Eyck. An optical revolution’. Worldwide only approximately twenty works by this artist have been preserved. On this exceptional occasion, a substantial amount of these will travel to Ghent, where they will be shown alongside works by his most talented peers.

Between the court and the city

Jan van Eyck was court painter for Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy (1396-1467). The flamboyant duke and his entourage surrounded themselves with the best artists. At the same time, the Flemish cities of Ghent and Bruges were prospering as trading centres. Wealthy merchants and politicians mirrored the pomp and circumstance of the courts and were in turn buyers of luxury goods. This was Jan van Eyck’s creative environment, between the court and the city, between art and métier.

The pinnacle of Late Mediaeval art

Van Eyck stood out from his peers and brought about an optical revolution. With his unequalled technique and observational skills, he elevated oil painting to new heights and shaped the course of fine arts. His absolute masterpiece is ‘The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’ (St Bavo's Cathedral, Ghent), commissioned by Joos Vijd, Alderman of Ghent, which he completed in 1432 after the death of his brother Hubert Van Eyck.

Centrepieces of this exhibition are the restored outer panels of ‘The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’, part of the campaign which the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK/IRPA) started in the MSK in 2012. Visitors will be able to marvel close-up at the spectacular result of the restoration, and witness the panels in direct dialogue with Van Eyck’s other works of art. This provides the opportunity to re-evaluate his art and its historical context.

In dialogue with Van Eycks’ peers

To make Van Eyck’s optical revolution come to life, his paintings will furthermore be exhibited next to works by his most talented peers from Germany, France, Italy and Spain. They too moved in exalted circles and received prestigious commissions. By presenting these pieces alongside one another, the Ghent exhibition zooms in on their artistic differences and similarities.

‘Van Eyck. An optical revolution’ unravels the myths surrounding the artist and puts his technique, work and influences in a new perspective. This exhibition will awaken a sense of wonder among visitors, comparable to that which people would have felt when they saw his works for the first time: a once-in-a-lifetime experience.