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February 2006

Vol. 148 | No. 1235

Dutch, Flemish and German art


Berlin's Museumsinsel

THE NEWLY RESTORED Bodemuseum on Berlin’s Museumsinsel was unlocked for a two-day architectural preview last December, to be greeted with great acclaim. The Museum officially reopens later this summer, housing two parts of the Berlin State Museums, the Sculpture Collection and the Museum of Byzantine Art, as well as a selection of two hundred paintings from the pre-nineteenth-century collection of the Gemäldegalerie. Following the magnificent restoration of the Alte Nationalgalerie (reopened 2001), also on the island (Fig.I) – now without doubt one of the world’s most beautiful museums – the reopening of the Bode is a highly significant moment in the unfolding of the ‘masterplan’ that has been devised for the rebuilding and reorganisation of Berlin’s museums and collections following German reunification and the inauguration, in 1999, of the Berlin Republic. Particularly praiseworthy is the ease with which Heinz Tesar, the architect for the Bode, and the museum authorities have skirted the usual controversy surrounding restoration, by meeting half-way both conservative demands and calls for innovation. While the paintings and sculpture within will no longer follow the display as it stood from 1905 until the beginning of the Second World War, the interior preserves many elements of Wilhelm von Bode’s original suite of historic galleries (Fig.II).

Editorial read more
  • New Evidence for the date, function and historical significance of Jan van Eyck's 'Van Maelbeke Virgin'

    By Susan Jones

    JAN VAN EYCK'S Virgin and Child with a donor, known as the Van Maelbeke Virgin and celebrated since the early nineteenth century as the artist’s last and unfinished picture, adorned the choir of the collegiate church of St Martin’s, Ypres, for more than three centuries. Around 1757 it was removed from the church and in the 1790s it was lost during the French occupation of Ypres. However, visual and literary sources provide a good idea of its appearance: its design is known from two mid-fifteenth-century pattern drawings (Fig.1), a late sixteenth-century print (Fig.2), an early seventeenth-century triptych (Fig.3) and a memorial painting of 1645 (Fig.4). According to the Ghent Humanist Marcus van Vaernewyck, who in 1568 published an extensive description of it in his Den Spieghel der Nederlandscher Audheyt (see the Appendix below, III), the central panel showed an abbot or provost kneeling before the Virgin and Child while the wings had images in two registers symbolising the purity of the Virgin: Moses’s burning bush, Gideon’s fleece, Ezekiel’s gate and Aaron’s rod.

  • Two paintings in Copenhagen re-attributed to Rembrandt

    By Lene Bøgh Rønberg,Jørgen Wadum

    THE STORY OF the Rembrandt paintings at the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen bears some similarity to what happened at the Wallace Collection in London. There, in the late 1980s, the Rembrandt Research Project (RRP) judged that four of the Collection’s five paintings then still attributed to Rembrandt could not be accepted as authentic, leaving only one of the twelve paintings in the Wallace once ascribed to Rembrandt as an authentic work. In fact, the Rembrandts in Copenhagen met with an even worse fate. In 1911, Karl Madsen, the director of the Museum at that time and a dedicated Rembrandt scholar who in many ways was the Danish counterpart to Wilhelm von Bode and Abraham Bredius, published Billeder af Rembrandt og hans Elever i Den kongelige Malerisamling (‘Pictures by Rembrandt and his pupils in the Royal collection of paintings’), listing eight works by Rembrandt. As Madsen’s studies progressed over the following decades, the number of Rembrandts in the collection increased, and in 1931 he brought the tally of authentic Rembrandts up to ten. However, in the next catalogue of the Museum’s collection of old-master paintings, published in 1946, this number was halved. In 1969 Horst Gerson removed another four works from the list in his revised edition of Bredius’s 1935 Rembrandt catalogue, reducing the Museum’s collection of authentic works to just one: the Supper at Emmaus of 1648. However, in 1987 the RRP made a preliminary statement rejecting the authenticity of all the works at the Statens Museum for Kunst that had once been attributed to Rembrandt.

  • Johannes Vermeer's 'Young woman seated at a virginal'

    By Libby Sheldon,Nicola Costaras

    THE NUMBER OF paintings firmly attributed to Johannes Vermeer is relatively small: thirty-five are generally agreed upon, although even some of these have been fiercely debated for decades. Attribution is hindered by the remarkable paucity of documented facts relating to Vermeer’s life. John Michael Montias’s exhaustive research has uncovered numerous leads regarding his patronage and circumstances but, unlike many of his contemporaries whose pupils or followers left both verbal and visual descriptions of their masters’ workshops, we have no clear idea of the character of Vermeer’s studio, his working practices or initial training.1 When the small painting of a Young woman seated at a virginal (Figs.22 and 24) was acquired in 1960 by the late Baron Rolin, its status as a seventeenth-century painting, let alone as a Vermeer, was doubted by several leading scholars, and for many years afterwards there was little agreement on its attribution. In the run-up to the picture’s sale at Sotheby’s, London, in 2004,2 the attribution to Vermeer became more widely accepted, largely due to the findings of the technical examination of the work, which were summarised in the sale catalogue but are here presented in full for the first time.

  • 'Dreaming in the abstract': Mondrian, psychoanalysis and abstract art in the Netherlands

    By Michael White

    IN HIS MONOGRAPH on Piet Mondrian, published in 1956, Michel Seuphor vigorously dismissed the comment of an earlier critic that Mondrian’s art is ‘pure feeling’, that the artist ‘does not reason’ and that he ‘dreams in the abstract’. Throughout his book, Seuphor is at pains to assert Mondrian’s sobriety and intellectual standing. The success of Seuphor’s account is marked by the frequent link made today between Mondrian’s painting and rationality, although a steady and persistent tradition has developed of writings concerned with his psychological state.