VAN DER WEYDEN UNVEILED at the Mauritshuis in The Hague

The Mauritshuis museum offers a unique treat this summer. Visitors get the chance to witness a restoration of a painting. For three months, starting Thursday 14th of June, they can see experts working on the museum’s oldest painting.

Rogier van der Weyden painted the Mauritshuis’ “Lamentation of Christ”. He was born in Doornik around 1399, but spent most of his life working in Brussels. He was famous throughout Europe during his life-time. An Italian admirer even wrote his first biography, while van der Weyden was still working in Brussels.

Mauritshuis “Lamentation of Christ”

Van der Weyden and artists working for him in his studio created the Mauritshuis “Lamentation” between 1460-1464. It shows damage in a few places, previous restorations and its varnish is aging. Slowly turning yellow, it distorts colours.

Time for a ‘make-over’ and as the Mauritshuis has done before: in full view of the public! Visitors can witness the process in the museum’s exhibition wing. On entering, visitors find a complete workspace to their right. In this studio, the Mauritshuis’ “Lamentation of Christ” is being treated.

Using iPads, mounted around this partly open studio, visitors can learn more about the on-going work. Occasionally, a short film is shown as well. On the walls, they can read more information; like how this painting used to be framed, how it was displayed, who the people in it represent.

Special treat: each afternoon, around 15:00, visitors can ask Mauritshuis’ specialists questions about the restoration process. Just thirty minutes mind! For watch the specialist work and it is obvious, restoring a painting is a trying job.

Uffizi “Entombment of Christ”

On entering, visitors first come face to face with another stunning painting. While the Mauritshuis'”Lamentation” shows Christ’s body in front of the cross, this takes the story a scene further.

This “Entombment” is usually to be found in Italy. To help the Mauritshuis’ research in its van der Weyden, Italy’s Galleria degli Uffize kindly loaned its “Entombment”. Visitors can admire it here for the duration of the Mauritshuis’ exhibition.

The Uffizi painting is important from a research point of view. Both paintings were created during the same period. Both show similarities and differences, offering art historians a chance to learn more.

The paintings were ordered by different clients. As mentioned above, this late in his career, van der Weyden was famous throughout Europe. A wealthy Italian ordered him to paint this “Entombment” , according to specific instructions.

On completion, this painting traveled from its Brussels studio, across the Alps, to the Villa Medici near Florence. The wealthy client? None other than Lorenzo de Medici.

New techniques 

The Mauritshuis is not just a museum. It not only restores paintings. Its experts also carry out research. Some of this research into the two lamentations painted by van der Weyden, are presented in the small exhibition space to the left.

Here, the museum invites visitors to use a large touch-screen. This screen offers several options to its users. Take its zoom function. It is possible to zoom in on the whole painting, or specific details.

Visitors can admire the way van der Weyden painted fur, or the embroidery of the Bishop’s Cape. As one of the Mauritshuis staff said: “You can spend hours pouring over this screen.”

New techniques not only offer the chance to discover details of this painting. The screen also enables visitors to see what the painting and details reveal, using X-rays or Infra-red. Under varnish and paint-layers, changes in the drawing Rogier van der Weyden made first are unveiled.

Compare these to photos of other paintings, displayed on the walls. For while some visitors are using the screen, others have the chance to read displayed information. Here is a photo of a portrait of Lorenzo de Medici and his villa.

There is also a close-up of the bishop who ordered the Mauritshuis’ “Lamentation of Christ”. His name? Unfortunately, a lot will be revealed in “Van der Weyden unveiled” – but the name of this bishop remains a mystery. Unless you solve this mystery?   Kate Deni   13th June 2018

Photos courtesy The Hague Mauritshuis Museum

Mauritshuis: Van der Weyden Unveiled opens Thursday 14th of June and runs until 9th of September 2018.