Exhibition Imperial Treasure

The Gemäldegalerie of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna possesses one of the most important collections of Old Masters in the world. Within the collection, the art of the Southern Low Countries from the 15th to the 17th Century is one of the strong points. From this, 54 masterpieces, which are part of the exhibition, Imperial Treasure, are on loan to the Groeninge Museum in Bruges. This deals with works that rarely leave the Kunsthistorisches Museum.

Over the centuries, the Archdukes of Austria as well as the later emperors of the Holy Roman Empire collected the works of art. Each in turn, the princes had a nose for art and a preference for the early Low Countries. The collections that they then assembled over the centuries contain works from, among others: Jan van Eyck, Hugo van der Goes, Hans Memling, Gerard David, Michiel Sittow, Juan de Flandes, Jan Gossart, Joos van Cleve, Joachim Patinir, Jheronimus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel the Elder. In the 18th Century, the collections were brought together and in this way the Gemäldegalerie came into being.

The majority of the artists named have a close connection with Bruges and they are represented in the collections of the Groeninge Museum. Yet, the works on loan from the Kunsthistorisches Museum indeed form an important enrichment of the Groeninge's collection. Above all, there are the portraits. The Portrait of the Goldsmith Jan de Leeuw by Jan van Eyck is exceptionally exhibited in Bruges and thus forms an interesting complement to the Portrait of Margaretha van Eyck and Madonna with Canon Joris van der Paele (Groeninge Museum, Bruges). A second portrait by the hand of Gerard David also shows a goldsmith and is one of the two remaining portraits that are attributed to Gerard David. In addition to the monumental works by David that are exhibited in the Groeninge Museum, this one offers an interesting and surprising glimpse into David's art. In addition, portraits by Jan Sanders van Hemessen, Jan Sittow, Frans Pourbus the Elder and Adriaen Thomasz Key are shown.

An other well-known Flemish primitive who will be represented is Hugo van der Goes. The diptych with the Fall of Man and the Lamentation is one of the core pieces from his oeuvre. The diptych, which is made for private devotion, shows Van der Goes's ability. The work is distinguished by a high level of refinement. In the left panel, this is to be seen in the meticulous execution of the trees and plants and in the right panel by the powerful emotions accompanied with the mourning of Jesus's corpse.

Quite a world apart are the so-called ‘kitchen pieces' of Pieter Aertsen, Maerten van Cleve and Joachim Beuckelaer. In this type of artwork, all sorts of foodstuffs in a kitchen interior are shown in the foreground and frequently in the background a moralising theme is depicted. The genre was strongly popular in Antwerp during the 16th Century, but was unknown in Bruges. It was purchased by the self-conscious and rich bourgeoisie and is a distinguishing example of the specialisation that came about in the art beginning in the 16th Century.

An other example of specialisation is the art of landscape painting. A selection of landscape paintings shows how this genre developed in the 16th Century into an independent genre. The series that starts with Joachim Patinir's The Wonder of St. Catharine and ends with the work of David Vinckboons and a monumental work by Joos de Momper shows the different facets of this genre. An absolute high point within this series and within the exhibition is the Suicide of Saul by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. The painting shows a splendid valley, viewed from a mountaintop, in which two fighting armies encounter each other on the flanks of the hills. It is painted in a miniaturised style that makes one think of miniaturist art. It shows the finesse of Pieter Bruegel's art.

When: 5/10 - 15/01/2012
Where: Groeninge Museum Bruges
More info: Website