3 April 2008
More than five hundred years ago Geertgen tot Sint Jans, Holland’s most important fifteenth-century painter, painted the triptych The Adoration of the Magi. Over the centuries parts of the painting were sawn off and lost. Joseph became separated from the Virgin and Child. A missing section of one panel has recently been rediscovered in Germany and now the Biblical carpenter can finally come home. Today Joseph will resume his place at Mary’s side in the exhibition Dutch Primitives at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen.
By chance, a German curator recently came across a photograph of a small panel in the Historisches Museum in Frankfurt. He noticed that the painting bore stylistic similarities with the fifteenth-century triptych The Adoration of the Magi by Geertgen tot Sint Jans, currently on show in the exhibition Dutch Primitives at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. It was known that a section had been sawn off the triptych, which came from a castle in Prague. The Frankfurt panel had been catalogued as a nineteenth-century work and so the German curator’s hunch seemed highly improbable. But curiosity of the curators of the exhibition in Rotterdam had been awakened and subsequent research showed that the panel is indeed the missing figure of Joseph.
The two museums and the castle are delighted at the discovery and believe that the newly discovered panel must be included in the exhibition Dutch Primitives – Paintings from the late Middle Ages in Rotterdam. Today Joseph will be reunited with the Virgin and Child after centuries of separation. Joseph stands modestly in the background of the scene, which corresponds with his position in several other panels by the same painter. The paintings can be seen at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen until 25 May 2008.
Countless numbers of paintings were made in Holland in the Middle Ages. But only ninety have survived the succession of iconoclastic attacks, wars and other acts of violence. Two thirds of these paintings are now on display in the exhibition Dutch Primitives. The twelve panels by Geertgen tot Sint Jans are the highlights of the exhibition. He painted religious scenes, but the figures depicted are very human. This realistic style, typical of painting in Holland, ensures that his paintings still have the ability to move us. The exhibition contains masterpieces from Dutch collections supplemented with dozens of loans of rare panels from all over the world. The panels are so fragile that a similar exhibition will never be possible again.
The exhibition was produced in association with the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and with the support of the Turing Foundation, the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds and Rabobank Rotterdam.
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