Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Anne van Grevenstein-Kruse and The Ghent Altarpiece

I met Anne van Grevenstein-Kruse, Director of the Limburg Institute (SRAL) in the the Amsterdam-Maastricht Summer University (AMSU) course Historic Painting Techniques in Oil: The Confrontation between Rembrandt and Rubens (18 August—24 August, 2007). Anne was a benevolent watchful presence, guiding participants with a gentle wise hand. I am grateful to her for her careful organization of such a complicated enterprise.

Grevenstein-Kruse is recognized as one of the most respected living conservators of our day. To entrust the conservation of the Ghent Altarpiece, the “Sistine Chapel” of fifteenth century Flemish painting, to her care, testifies to her unique standing among her colleagues. Knowledge and skill and the ability to lead a group of learned associates will protect and preserve Jan van Eyck’s masterpiece for the future. Completed in 1432, the altarpiece is more than half a millennium old, a venerable age. That it is still “alive” is amazing, considering its history. Throughout its lifetime it has been vandalized and almost destroyed on several occasions, most recently in the twentieth century when it was seized by the Nazis who stored it in a salt mine. Only after the defeat of the Third Reich, did it return to Belgium and was restored to its original location, the Vydt chapel in the church of St John, in Ghent. (The church was renamed for Saint Bavo in 1539 and became a cathedral.) More recently the altarpiece was displayed in the choir, enclosed by a glass wall.

My drawing of Anne van Grevenstein-Kruse was based on a black and white photocopy of a blurry digital. I was struck by van Grevenstein’s features which reminded me of physiognomies pictured by sixteenth--century Low Country and German artists. My initial intention was to do a silverpoint drawing, using cross-hatching and other drawing techniques of the period, but I found myself preferring pencil. The pencils used were Faber—Castell 9000 3B, Faber—Castell TK 9071 5B, and Stabilo Schwan 8046. The paper is a sheet (9” X 12”) of Central Clay Coat, New York Central Art Supply. This was the first drawing I have made from a photograph of a living person; all other portraits that I drew or painted were from life. In the future I will rarely attempt this again; I favor flesh and blood, and interaction between the model and myself.

for more on the photograph click here

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