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Fully Restored in Ghent: Jan van Eyck’s Portrait of Baudouin de Lannoy

03.02.2020
Gemäldegalerie

The restoration of Jan van Eyck’s portrait of Baudouin de Lannoy is now complete. After months of restoration work, from mid-May the painting will be on display in the Gemäldegalerie. Currently, it can be admired in the exhibition Jan van Eyck – An Optical Revolution at the Museum voor Schone Kunsten Gent in Belgium (1 February to 30 April 2020), whose support made the restoration possible.

New Details Revealed During the Restoration

Before its restoration, the portrait had been known only in its former condition, with the work obscured by thick, yellow and greyed coats of varnish. The restoration has revealed much of the work’s original colour, allowing its intricate detail to now be appreciated. The impressive illusionism in the depiction of surfaces of different materials, so characteristic for van Eyck, is now visible in all its precision.

The bluish, shimmering nuances of the red-violet of the gold-detailed velvet are now particularly present. With white and blue pigments, the bright edges of the folds of the drapery reveal complex hues of light in the dark red velvet. Through his nuanced use of colour in the gold ornamentation, ranging from light yellow and yellow through to orange and ochre tones, van Eyck produced a striking sculptural quality to his drapery. The intricate details in the depiction of the fur are also beguiling. The fine, reddish fur of the coat’s trim opens out in a highly sculptural manner, revealing the distinct colour of the fur behind. It distinguishes itself clearly from the long-haired fur of the hat, which almost seems mobile. The two furs clearly come from different animals.

Details That Had Been Painted Over Uncovered

A particularly interesting detail can be found on the brow of the subject: during the restoration, a scar that had formed part of the original painting was uncovered that had previously been concealed by paint. The creases around his eyes, the wart on his cheek and reddened areas of his skin were observed by van Eyck in detail and depicted meticulously.  

During the in-depth preliminary investigation of the work, restorers were able to identify numerous old coats of varnish covering the surface of the painting, which had been applied over the previous centuries. Restorers were able to retain an old, thin coat covering the painting, and significantly reduce the number of coats that had been applied atop it. This enhanced the visual effect of the painting markedly. The background, which had suffered a good deal more deterioration, had been painted over in a solid coat of black paint, obscuring the fine hairs along the contours of the fur hat. By removing the black paint, these details were able to be revealed once more. Minor damage around the face was retouched, and a thin, protective varnish was applied.

Jan van Eyck’s Portrait of Baudouin de Lannoy

The small panel painting showing the bust of a lean middle-aged man with half-closed eyes and a stern expression is part of the outstanding collection of paintings by Jan van Eyck (1390 / 1440-1441) in the Gemäldegalerie. Baudouin de Lannoy was counselor and chamberlain to Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. He certainly knew van Eyck as the Duke’s court painter. His clothes made of brownish-purple brocade velvet, the large fur hat and the Collane of the Order of the Golden Fleece indicate the high social status, which Baudouin de Lannoy held at the court of the Duke.

In the relatively small oeuvre of Jan van Eyck there exist several highly individualized portraits of small formats. His paintings are delicately worked out in detail. His painting style is characterized by a very fine, differentiated execution and particularly subtle presentation of different surfaces. These impressive details are no longer perceptible on the Berlin portrait in its current state.

The painting was acquired for the Gemäldegalerie in 1902. On the reverse of the panel made from oak wood, there are a few remnants of a painting imitating stone, which can often be found on portraits from the 15th century. The original frame, initially fixed to the panel, is now lost.