Jan van Eyck's Portrait of "Baudouin de Lannoy", c. 1438/40

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.

Object history and state of preservation

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.

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, because a thick, dull varnish covers the painting. In the background there is a multitude of scattered small losses. The whole area is almost completely overpainted. Amazingly, the painting of the figure itself is nearly untouched.

Conservation and restoration project

The portrait will be shown in the exhibition "Van Eyck. An Optical Revolution", which will take place at the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent from February 1 to April 30, 2020. The treatment of the painting was made possible with generous support from the exhibition budget. The painting has been researched intensively from a technical point of view over the past few years. Currently the focus is on capturing and documenting the condition and all subsequent changes. All the components of the painting are extensively investigated which includes the wooden panel, ground, paint and intermediate layers, as well as the different layers of varnish, overpaint and retouchings. The painting is covered by at least five non-original, initially transparent layers of varnish, which turned yellow and cloudy due to the light –induced aging process. Retouching and overpaint layers from at least three different restoration phases can be detected. With the help of solvents and gels, the non-original layers can be removed step by step under the microscope – a difficult, time-consuming task. Subsequently, small losses in the painting will be retouched and a new, protective varnish will be applied thinly. The painting with all its fascinating details is expected to be on view again in the Gemäldegalerie from May 2020.

Cooperation partner: Museum voor Schone Kunsten Gent, Belgium
Duration: June 2019 to January 2020
Grant: Museum voor Schone Kunsten Gent, Belgium
Contact: Babette Hartwieg, Head of Art Technology and Conservation-Restoration and Sandra Stelzig, graduate conservator in charge, Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin