The Palais des Beaux-Arts of Lille has chosen for its first exhibition dedicated to Flemish primitive painters a minor master of the end of the 15th century, identified in 1926 by art historian J. Max Friedländer, unknown to the general public, and to say the truth still as enigmatic to the specialists. While the group of works attributed to his workshop is perfectly coherent, this cannot be considered as a retrospective but rather as an original test to reconcile the researcher’s eye with that of the public at large. Aside from the quality and the interest of the works presented, it offers the visitor the possibility to become familiar with the procedure followed by art historians, while exercising his eye and appreciating the fascinating details of artistic creation and of its techniques.
So many confusing similarities
Art historians use two great criteria to attribute the work to the Master of the Embroidered Foliage: the treatment of foliage by little, systematic, luminous and precise points like embroidery points, and a model of a Virgin the Master would have created based on works by Rogier Van der Weyden, in particular the Virgin drawn by Saint Luke and the Duràn Madonna. The exhibit in Bruges on anonymous Flemish primitives in 1969 somewhat put in doubt the criteria based on the treatment of the landscape and it is not impossible that a myriad of painters could be traced, based on the paintings brought together for the exhibit. But rather than fragment this presentation between different masters or supposed workshops, the choice was made to seek the reasons for so many confusing similarities between one work and the next and to explore the resources.
The meticulous representation of towns and landscapes, quite characteristic of the art of anonymous small masters at the end of the century is not only the effect of a type of coquetry. Visitors will discover here the birth of a type of Flemish landscape, halfway between gothic and naturalism, and appreciate the setting of a world recreated by the artists. A landscape filled with symbols treated in a “realistic” way, a Virgin with the Child dressed in red in a closed garden, saints, angels playing music, landscapes from Paradise, flowers and animals, daily activities…The representation of a world at the borderline between the sacred and reality, rendered through the effects of an applied and brilliantly designed art form.
A world at the borderline between the sacred and reality
Illustration: Saint Barb. Attributed to the Master of the Embroidered Foliage, Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen.
Exhibition catalogue. Texts by Florence Gombert and Didier Martens 128 pages, 120 illustrations (colour and black and white). RMN publisher, 25 €.
Two days of studies dedicated to the methods of attribution will be organized on 23 and 24 June 2005. The papers of this symposium will provide an extension of the exhibition’s catalogue.
This exhibition is acknowledged to be of national interest by the Ministry of Culture and Communication/Museums of France Management and therefore receives exceptional financial backing from the State. It has been organised by the City of Lille/ Palais des Beaux-Arts, along with the FRAME (French Regional and American Museum Exchange), with the support of FRAME, FEDER, Ministry of Culture and Communication (DRAC Nord Pas-de-Calais), the Regional Council and the North Department Council.
The exhibition has been sponsored by the Crédit du Nord bank.