As of 12 October the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium in Brussels will stage an exhibition devoted to painting in Brussels in the period between the death of Rogier van der Weyden (1464) and the activity of Bernard van Orley (1492-1541/42).
It is difficult to identify the painters of this period. Among the painters active in Brussels at that moment, Colyn de Coter is the only one of whom signed work has come down to us.
Through a document we know that Aert van den Bossche painted a triptych for the Saint Nicolas church. Pieter van der Weyden, who inherited the famous workshop of his father Rogier, is mentioned in several documents, but no painting can be attributed with certainty to him. On the other hand, there are unsigned and undocumented paintings that show a strong influence of Rogier van der Weyden, or others with the inscription "te Bruesele" (made in Brussels) and some that prominently depict Brussels monuments, like the Saint Gudula Cathedral. These are attributed to masters with a provisional name: the Master of the View of Saint Gudula, the Master of the Princely Portraits, the Master of the Life of Joseph (also called the Master of Affligem), the Master of Orsoy, the Master of the Saint Barbara Legend, the Master of the Saint Catherine Legend, the Master of the Redemption of the Prado (the presumed Vrancke van der Stockt) and the Master of the Embroidered Foliage. These painters have not been highly estimated in art history, like their contemporaries in Bruges, they have been designated with the term "minor masters".
The exhibition is built on a four year research program carried out by Dr. Griet Steyaert who, as an art historian has been focusing on the followers of Rogier van der Weyden. She wrote a PhD thesis on the Master of the Legend of Saint Catherine. She is also trained in technical examination and easel painting restoration. Recently she has restored The Seven Sacraments (Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp) by Rogier van der Weyden.
Beside the Master of the Saint Catherine Legend, two other Brussels painters have been studied in detail: Colyn de Coter and the Master of the Embroidered Foliage. The other artistic personalities remain less known, although some of their works have been the subject of detailed studies. The Brussels school of the end of the 15th century has not benefited from any general study since the exhibition organized in 1953 at the Musée communal de Bruxelles. Most of the studies undertaken so far focused on problems of attributions. On a stylistic level the paintings have almost always been measured against the yardstick of Van der Weyden. The narrative aspect and the taste for decorative ornamentation has been stressed with little attempt to define the individual specificities of the Brussels "minor masters".
With the three existing detailed studies as starting point, the research project will concentrate on four important workshops, those of the Master of the Redemption of the Prado, the Master of the Saint Barbara Legend, the Master of the View of Saint Gudula and the Master of the Joseph Sequence, with reference also to the principal works of the other painters active in Brussels.
The Groeninge Museum in Bruges loaned the following works:
Anonymous, Portrait of Philip the Good, Groeninge Museum, Bruges.
Anonymous, Mater Dolorosa and Man of Sorrows, Groeninge Museum, Bruges.
Master of the Embroidered Foliage, Madonna crowned by angels, Groeninge Museum, Bruges.
Master of the Saint Barbara Legend from the collection of the Mauritshuis in The Hague (Temporarily at the Groeninge Museum in Bruges)
The Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent loaned the following work:
Master of the Legend of the Holy Magdalen, The virgin and child, Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent.