For the Memling in Saint Jan's Hospital Museum, 2012 is becoming a golden year. In May, an exhibition opens, which can be called exceptional in more ways than one. It bears the title of The Mourners: Tears of Love and Sadness and has as its subject sorrow, loss and emptiness after the death of a loved one. Laurent Busine, Director of the Musées des Arts Contemporains MAC's Grand-Hornu, is fully suited to be the one to plan out this exhibition.
The exhibition is built up around the one-time presence in Bruges of an ensemble of late-Medieval grave sculpture of an exceptionally plastic and aesthetic level: 37 ‘pleurants' (mourners) in alabaster. The images depict mourning clergymen, Carthusian monks and courtesans and their origin is from the memorial tomb of the Burgundian Duke, John the Fearless and his wife Margaret of Bavaria in the Musée des Beaux Arts in Dijon. This museum was once the ducal palace of the Burgundian dynasty and since 1799 has functioned as a museum.
One can imagine that the grievers come to Bruges on a family visit: grandson Charles the Bold and great-granddaughter Maria of Burgundy, at any rate, received a memorial tomb in the Our Blessed Lady Church across the museum. The Mourners, which for the first time must leave the museum on the occasion of renovation works, are to be seen still in Berlin and Paris after Bruges. After which they will return to Dijon permanently.
The Mourners that will be displayed in Bruges come from the burial tomb of the Burgundian Duke, John the Fearless (died in 1419). The tomb monument was made between 1443 and 1470 and is by the hand of two sculptors, Jean (Juan) de la Huerta from Aragón and Antoine Le Moiturier from Avignon. The former already had the majority of the monument done when he left Dijon in 1456 after many problems, and the latter carried on the work and completed the Mourners in the arcade in 1466-1469.
The Mourners comprise a funeral procession of statuettes that express their sorrow surprisingly openly and share this grief amongst each other as well as with the viewer. They will be shown in and in front of the chapel in the Memling in Saint Jan's Hospital Museum and shall join there, in addition to the Johannes tableau of Hans Memling, five master works of the Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966). With the poetic sensitivity that he is known for, Curator Laurent Busine allows these human sculptures, in their most vulnerable moments, to engage in a dialog with the Mourners. Or, how the universal feelings such as love, sorrow, missing and loneliness effortlessly span more than five centuries.
The exhibition is continued in the museum's attic rooms. 101 photographs of men, women and children, ranging from a few-months old to 100 years, by the German artist Hans-Peter Feldmann (1941) confront the visitors with the passing of life. Other works deal with the loss and the emptiness and how we cope with that. Nicolas Gruppo (1970), perhaps the surprise of the exhibition, exhibits an extremely sensitive video. David Claerbout (1969) has a strong presence with two works. ‘Mist over Landscape' surprisingly communicates with a classic work from the collections of the Groeninge Museum. ‘The Long Goodbye' shows how the time flies in a play of changing light and shadow.
Finally, ‘Tre Pietre', for a lesser-known work by the Italian Arte Povera-artist Giuseppe Penone (1947), we will gladly allow the viewer to discover on his own, so as not to give away everything from the exhibition in advance.
Adjunct-conservator Hospital Museum
The Mourners: Tears of Love and Sadness
Memling in Sint-Jan Hospital Museum Bruges
11 May through and including 9 September, 2012
More info: Website