Back to the past..

The last years, we feel the need to go back further in time to understand where medieval art as we know it today came from. We also consider this as an indication that we must continue on this path. During our recent fairs we have already attempted to present a collection with earlier pieces, and you will see that we are going to continue even more with this effort. There has to come a moment when you find the ‘missing link’ from an earlier artistic period before the Romanesque art – de so called ‘Dark Ages’- which finally leads us to the Egyptians, the Greek and the Romans.

Art is always on the move, and it only becomes exciting when you see the connections and understand them as a result. We hope that art-lovers of medieval art will follow in our tracks.

Luc, Tin & Pieter De Backker

pieter

CREDO, a fantastic exhibition

Heat is certainly the key word this summer, when many days seems to be like gold. This reminds us of the great holidays of yesteryear, full of carefree days that never seemed to end. We hope that you too have the time and space to enjoy such a wonderfully authentic holiday feeling together with your family.

This year we opted for an old-fashioned ‘Churches and Museums Tour’ in Germany and we visited such a fantastic exhibition that we had to tell you that you should ab-so-lu-te-ly not miss it.
This is the most interesting exhibition in our field of the past 20 years, with loans from the biggest museums around the world. We saw here completely unknown objects and pieces that we have known about for years from our books. It was incredible to see them in real. The exhibition is called ‘Credo’ and is being held in Paderborn. You will find all the practical information in the enclosed brochure. For the sake of clarity we must mention that this exhibition is so extensive that you certainly need a whole day to be able to see everything properly.

This exhibition was a revelation for us from a number of perspectives. It confirms our view that we need to go back further in time to understand where medieval art as we know it today came from. We also consider this as an indication that we are on the right path. In recent years we have already attempted to present a collection with earlier pieces, and you will see that we are going to continue even more with this effort. There has to come a moment when you find the ‘missing link’ from an earlier artistic period before the Romanesque art – de so called ‘Dark Ages’- which finally leads us to the Egyptians, the Greek and the Romans.
Art is always on the move, and it only becomes exciting when you see the connections and understand them as a result, like at this exhibition.

We are convinced that as an art lover this impressive ‘Credo’ will give you enormous pleasure.

Practical information:
Credo – Christianity in the European Middle Ages
Germany, Paderborn, 26. July – 3. November 2013
10.00 till 18.00 h. – closed on monday
3 Locations: Diözesanmuseum - Kaiserpfalz –Städtische Galerie
www.credo-ausstellung.de

Time has come to pass on the torch

There was a time when children automatically followed in their parents’ footsteps. But those times seem long gone now. So we can’t tell you how delighted we are to see our son be such a vital support, and above all a passionate art-lover. Clearly the virus has caught on. He’s a young, dynamic, and driven enthusiast, and his passion tends to surpass ours. That should give you an idea of his enthusiasm for medieval art.

There is no doubt that over the years Pieter has earned his rightful place through his great efforts, his enthusiasm, and his relentless perseverance. He loves medieval art and he is eager to learn more, and, above all, he wants to share his love for the arts. He’s kind, up front, and honest towards customers. Building and maintaining good customer relations is of the utmost importance to him.

That is why my wife and I are proud to announce that as of the 1st of July, 2012, Pieter will assume his position as new director of our business. We will however continue to participate actively, albeit on a lesser scale.

With succession assured, we are deeply convinced that Pieter will introduce a new dynamic to maintain the high quality standards of our collection and put our business in an even wider international perspective.

Luc & Tin De Backker

pieter

RECENT PUBLICATION

Release of a new publication at BRAFA 2012: Chiaroscuro in 'The Nativity' by Hugo van der Goes. Innovator and precursor of the 17th century Caravaggist style by Rudy van Elslande.

When Luc De Backker saw a painted panel of the Birth of Christ (in 'chiaroscuro' style), he was immediately intrigued. The panel representing the Nativity, which came from the Portuguese art market, could be attributed without doubt to our own Early Netherlandish paintings.

After it was cleaned by the Brussels restorer Etienne Van Vyve that the true qualities and colours of this Nativity became visible. This was the moment when the Ghent art historian Rudy van Elslande decided to reopen the research and the discussion about the founder of the renowned 'chiaroscuro' style in connection with this panel. Here he gives a concise but provisional summary. For the full conclusion we will need to await the actual publication, which will be presented on the occasion of the Belgian art market, BRAFA 2012 in Brussels.

When the Hoogstraten art dealer Luc De Backker – who specialises in medieval art – saw a painted panel of the Birth of Christ, he was immediately intrigued. The panel representing the Nativity, which came from the Portuguese art market, could be attributed without doubt to our own Early Netherlandish paintings.
After inspecting the painting itself, it turned out that the work, although very dirty, was in more than good condition and that it was made probably around 1500.
The Ghent art historian Rudy van Elslande was particularly enthusiastic about this 'find', which was also a reason to make sure for Luc De Backker to acquire it.
When the work finally returned to its homeland after the purchase, both De Backker and Elslande were very excited. Meanwhile it had become clear that this work was based on the well known work of Hugo van der Goes that is described in the books but went missing already for centuries.
A bottle of champagne was an appropriate way to celebrate this homecoming. The panel was closely analysed, studied and discussed the whole day long. The floor was full of open books and spotlights and magnifying glasses were hauled out. De Backker and Elslande stood and gazed at the painting with great admiration.
But it was only after it was cleaned by the Brussels restorer Etienne Van Vyve that the true qualities and colours of this Nativity became visible. This was the moment when Rudy van Elslande decided to reopen the research and the discussion about the founder of the renowned 'chiaroscuro' style in connection with this panel. Here he gives a concise but provisional summary.
For the full conclusion we will need to await the actual publication, which will be presented on the occasion of the Belgian art market, BRAFA 2012 in Brussels.

Precursor of the art of Rembrandt

At the start of the twentieth century, various art historians determined that chiaroscuro, which is so typical for the work of the Italian artist Michelangelo Caravaggio (1571-1610), originated much earlier in the Netherlands (Benelux and French Flanders). Caravaggio is deemed to be the most productive seventeenth-century European painter alongside Rubens (1577-1640). One of his most important followers was Rembrandt van Rijn (1606/7-1669).
The outcome of this observation was that Dutch art historians tried to disassociate the originality of Rembrandt's 'Caravaggio-ism' from Italian art in order to give this style a North Netherlandish origin. They loudly proclaimed: "Who other than a Netherlander could be at the basis of the art of Rembrandt?" They believed that they could find proof for this in Nativity (London, National Gallery) by the Leiden painter Geertgen tot Sint-Jans (1460/5– ca. 1495), a work that was created around 1480. Geertgen was immediately declared to be the precursor of the Baroque.

Flanders versus the Netherlands

It was the German art historian Winkler who demonstrated that it was not Geertgen tot Sint-Jans but the Ghent native Hugo van der Goes (ca. 1430–1482) who was supposed to form the basis of this renewal in art. But there were still doubts.
The controversy did not end there, and in 1981 Châtelet came up with a new theory that argued that both Geertgen tot Sint-Jans and the approximately 30 years older Hugo van der Goes arrived at the same innovation at the same time.
There is still no clear view among art historians to this day as to who can be declared the father of chiaroscuro. It therefore remains important to be able to demonstrate whether or not the two painters arrived at the same innovation separately.

The Nativity

Further research into the founder of chiaroscuro in Netherlandish art is a pressing necessity. A panel representing Nativity appeared via the Belgian art dealer Luc De Backker (Hoogstraten). This work shows all the stylistic traits of the art of Hugo van der Goes, such as the face of the Virgin Mary. Maria wears a heavy coat which ends below in a rounded curve, a typical feature for van der Goes. Also the figure of Joseph, a worker with a head where the cheekbones protrude and the ends of the mouth have been pulled down, is very typical for the Ghent artist Hugo van der Goes. The innovative circular composition also points to the work of this Ghent master.

The presentation of the Nativity goes back to the vision of St. Birgitta of Sweden, who saw Mary kneeling before her new-born Son in her revelation. This presentation appeared in the early fifteenth century in Flanders. Joseph stands with a burning candle in hand behind Maria and the Child, a symbol for Christ who brings light to the darkness. What is new is that Joseph is no longer represented as an old man but as someone in his forties. The angels around the crib are also an innovation. They now receive a prominent place and are no longer secondary figures.
The fact that the birth takes place in the ruins of a palace is an entirely new iconography. The harp above the window tells us that this concerns the remains of the palace of King David, which stood in Nazareth – the birthplace of Jesus. Van der Goes illustrates here, as it were, that the descendants of this King were still not greatly valued at the turn of the century. Just like the palace, this genealogical branch has become a ruin.

Chiaroscuro

However, the greatest innovation in this Nativity is the chiaroscuro. Night scenes started to appear around 1400. Hugo van der Goes brought a huge innovation to the art of painting by having the light shine from one source, namely the crib. The reflections of the light result in a very expressive representation. It was precisely this chiaroscuro that Italian artists such as Caravaggio and Dutch artists such as Rembrandt brought to its culmination two centuries later.

Just as with many works by Hugo van der Goes, the original Nativity has not come down to us. Iconoclasts destroyed numerous works by this master, about whom it was already said in the fifteenth century that his equal could not be found on this side of the mountains (Alps). Besides accidents such as fire, a number of works by Hugo van der Goes were lost during the French Revolution. Only sixteen works by this great master have come down to us. Copies of works by Hugo van der Goes, such as the copy of Nativity in the Luc De Backker collection, are therefore also very valuable, since they clearly demonstrate the importance of Hugo van der Goes.

Publication

An extensive publication by the Ghent art historian Rudy van Elslande will soon appear regarding this Nativity, in which he discusses the importance of this representation in detail. This publication will be available from the De Backker Medieval Art stand nr° 24 at BRAFA in Brussels.

publication 1

DYMPNA ALTERPIECE

The famous altarpiece depicting the life of the St. Dympna, which had been on view in the Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp for many years, was auctioned by Sotheby's in London on 8th December 2010. The piece was purchased by art dealer Luc De Backker from Hoogstraten. The auction price was about 1.3 million pounds including auction fees. Luc De Backker is a specialist in medieval art who was commissioned by a Flemish art collector to purchase the Dympna altarpiece by Goswin Van der Weyden so that it would be returned to Flanders.

In a quote from an article by Jan Van Hove (DS 20th November): "In 1505, Goswin Van der Weyden painted seven scenes from the life of St. Dympna for the Tongerlo Abbey. The panels are of a good quality and have remained together, which is rare. The altarpiece was bought at an auction in London by Paul Janssens and his wife Dore. They were both passionate collectors. Since 2002, the altarpiece has been on loan to the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp. 'I had hoped that the piece would remain in our country', remarked Dora Janssen. 'I spoke to various institutions, but heard nothing back from them. Everyone kept passing me onto someone else. Now, there hasn't been a government for some time and the economic crisis has made it difficult to release such a large amount of money for the purchase of an art work. Consequently, I decided to auction the piece.' Goswin Van der Weyden (ca. 1465-1538) was the grandson of Rogier Van der Weyden, one of the most important Flemish primitives. He tried to stay faithful to his grandfather's style. Goswin carried out numerous assignments for the Tongerlo Abbey. His work is on display in various Belgian museums. The Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp has the Triptych of the Abbot Antonius Tsgrooten, which displays the Passion of Christ. 'The panels of Goswin Van der Weyden are very beautiful,' comments Paul Huvenne, the director of the Antwerp museum. 'However, as we are completely involved in the renovation of the museum, we are unable to expose the piece anymore. The small acquisition budget that we have had over the past couple of years has been used to restore our collection rather than acquire new pieces. Experts at Sotheby's estimate the value of the seven panels to be worth between 1.1 and 1.7 million euros. Before the panels were purchased by Paul and Dora Janssen, they were part of a Viennese collection."

The altarpiece was auctioned by Sotheby's in London on 8th December 2010. The piece was purchased by art dealer Luc De Backker from Hoogstraten. The auction price was about 1.3 million pounds including auction fees. Luc De Backker is a specialist in medieval art, who was commissioned by a Flemish art collector to purchase the Dympna altarpiece by Goswin Van der Weyden so that it would be returned to Flanders.

Since 1505, this painted altarpiece was located in the St. Dympna chapel of the Norbertine Abbey in Tongerlo. When open, the altarpiece has eight panels. The middle panel is comprised of four of those panels. The shutters, which have four grisaille paintings on the front, are made up from the other two pairs. The image at the bottom left of the central panel was lost before 1869.

Before the Dympna altarpiece was dismantled in 1724, there was a rhyming description on each panel. These were lost during this period. In 1658, the Canon of Tongerlo, Johannes Ludolphus van Craywinkel recorded the rhymes to keep them for perpetuity.

The panels have a moving history. Under Napoleon, they were hidden away in a secret location close to the abbey until they were described as the property of the Mayor of Geel in 1837. After which, they changed ownership a couple of times until they were bought on the Dutch art market in 1930 by the Belgian art collector Baron van der Elst who was living and working in Vienna. His beneficiaries sold the altarpiece at an auction to Dr. Paul Janssen in 2001. A desire to keep this unique artistic patrimony in Flanders was the new owner's most important reason for purchasing this art work.

publication 2
DE BACKKER Medieval Art, Grote Plaats 31, B-2323 Hoogstraten