Belgian Strictly speaking, art only existed from the founding of the state in 1830, but legendary artists who are still on everyone’s lips have lived and worked in what is now Belgium in the centuries before. Like the painter Jan van Eyck, who created the famous Ghent Altarpiece in the 15th century. But the Dresden Picture Gallery also has a sacred masterpiece by the artist that made art history.
Jan van Eyck’s travel altar for private devotion
It is the triptych of Mary and Child, Saint George and Saint Catherine, which he completed in 1437. Characteristic of his art, which was new at the time, were the miniature, extremely realistic descriptions of the details and the bright colors. Although it is a small-format altar, it is still one of Jan van Eyck’s major works.
Uta Neidhardt, senior curator at the Alte Meister Gallery, has researched this Dresden icon so thoroughly that her expertise has long been in demand in Belgium, where, as a member of an international expert commission, she advises the curators on the restoration of the Ghent Altarpiece.
“The Saint Jerome” by Peter Paul Rubens
Another superstar from what is now Belgium is none other than Peter Paul Rubens. There is a separate room dedicated to him in the Old Masters Gallery, one of the highlights of which is his painting of the Christian hermit in the desert, created around 1612/15, helping a wounded lion. The model for the half-naked male figure was a depiction of Jerome that Rubens had seen in Venice. For the sleeping lion, he based himself on ancient models, but also used his own drawings based on living animals.
A gas explosion and the consequences – Constantin Meunier
One of Dresden’s 19th century art treasures is without a doubt the impressive plaster sculpture by the Belgian sculptor Constantin Meunier, which was created between 1888 and 1890. After three decades of working as a painter, it was only when he was over 50 that he found his way back to sculpture, which he had originally started with. His great achievement was that he located the theme of working people in contemporary sculpture, says Astrid Nielsen, curator of the sculpture collection in the Albertinum.
The sculpture “The Mine Gas” is one of the early works that was inspired by a gas explosion in the Belgian coal mining district of Borinage, in which more than 100 workers died. Meunier went there himself, experienced the consequences of the catastrophe and created a depiction of a grieving mother bending over the naked body of her son, covered only by a loincloth. It also follows the classic motif of a Christian mourning group that expresses pain and sadness.
A celebration of painting – James Ensor’s “Still Life with Red Cabbage”
At the same time as Constantin Meunier, the Belgian painter James Ensor created his magnificent “Still Life with Red Cabbage”. Starting from realism and impressionism, he traced the phenomena of light and was also inspired by the vegetable still lifes of 17th century Dutch painting. With vehement brushstrokes in bright green and glowing dark red, the artist celebrates his unmistakable celebration of painting.
This work was acquired at the Dresden International Art Exhibition in 1926, when attempts were made to break the international isolation in the wake of the German war guilt question. It is all the more remarkable, says the senior curator of the State Art Collections Birgit Dalbajewa, that this major purchase even came about during the crisis-ridden Weimar Republic.
Hitler’s Helper – Luc Tuymans’ painting “The Architect”
Contemporary history is inscribed in many acquisitions in a variety of ways. For example, the painting “The Architect” by the renowned Belgian artist Luc Tuymans, created in 1997/1998. It is a reduced winter landscape in shades of white. The focus is on a fallen skier sitting in the snow. This ambiguous image was inspired by a historical private photo that shows Hitler’s personal architect Albert Speer on a skiing vacation.
At that time, however, as one of the Führer’s closest confidants, he was involved in the “final solution to the Jewish question,” as curator Mathias Wagner from the State Art Collections emphasizes. For the museum visitor, the picture embodies the “banality of evil” with which Hannah Arendt so aptly described the essence of National Socialism.
From the Picture Gallery to the Albertinum – you can take a fascinating journey through time through six centuries when you follow in the footsteps of Belgian art history. Even when the Belgian royal couple is long gone.
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