Book Series Me Fecit , vol. 13

Jan van Eyck’s Crucifixion and Last Judgment: Solving a Conundrum

Maryan Ainsworth (ed)

  • Pages: 195 p.
  • Size:225 x 300 mm
  • Illustrations:170 col.
  • Language(s):English
  • Publication Year:2022


The aim is to rediscover Van Eyck’s art—its facture, meaning, and function—within the context of its own time, and with particular regard to the circumstances of the commission.


Maryan Ainsworth is Curator Emerita in the Department of European Paintings, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Sophie Scully is Assistant Conservator in the Department of Paintings Conservation, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Silvia Centeno is Research Scientist in the Department of Scientific Research, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Marc Smith is Professor of Paleography at the École des Chartes in Paris, France

Christina Meckelnborg is Professor Emerita of Classical and Medieval Studies at the University of Osnabrück, Germany


Among the most intriguing and confounding works of Jan van Eyck’s oeuvre are the Crucifixion and Last Judgment in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Although acquired in 1933 as a diptych, questions have remained about their initial configuration, and how these paintings functioned. The recent technical investigations of the paintings and their original frames added further complexities to these inquiries when a fragmentary text in Middle Dutch was discovered through X-radiography on the frames surrounding the two paintings. The many facets of the ensuing investigation necessitated an interdisciplinary collaboration of researchers involving an art historian, paintings conservator, and museum scientist – namely, Maryan Ainsworth, Sophie Scully, and Silvia Centeno. Moreover, the new discovery of the formerly hidden text called for the enrichment of the interdisciplinary team by a paleographer and a classical philologist, Marc Smith and Christina Meckelnborg.

This book relates the unfolding story of the investigations from in-depth technical research, facilitating the conservation treatment of the frames, to the art historical study that connected these findings to the religious, political, and social contexts of the times. Through considerable interdisciplinary detective work, it was possible to reach a new understanding about the original form and function of the Crucifixion and Last Judgment and their pivotal role concerning devotions to a cherished relic, the Miraculous Bleeding Host, housed in the then collegiate church of Saint Michael and Saint Gudula in Brussels. The implications of these discoveries also shed new light on the relationship between The Met Crucifixion and Van Eyck’s metalpoint drawing of the same theme in the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam. Finally, the study of the Crucifixion and the Last Judgment draws attention to commissions Van Eyck received that are somewhat outside of the canon of works usually associated with this esteemed artist.


Introduction (Maryan Ainsworth)

1. The Technical Examination and Restoration of the Frames (Sophie Scully & Silvia Centeno)
This chapter follows the rediscovery of previously hidden texts on the frames of the Van Eyck paintings, the investigation of the Latin pastiglia texts, and the cleaning and restoration of the frames.

2.Text and Image: the Rediscovery and Hierarchy of Texts Within the Paintings and Their Frames (Marc Smith)
Paleography of the rediscovered Middle Dutch texts and Latin pastiglia on the frames, as well as texts within the paintings and their context within Van Eyck’s other works.

3. The Original Form and Function of the Crucifixion and Last Judgment (Maryan Ainsworth)
Following from the technical analysis of the original frames and the paintings, this chapter argues that the paintings originally served as the doors to a tabernacle shrine holding the relics of the Miraculous Bleeding Host at the Collegiate Church of St. Gudule in Brussels.

4. Following Van Eyck’s Working Technique (Sophie Scully & Silvia Centeno)
Evidence from the technical examination of the paintings through infrared reflectography, x-radiography, XRF scanning, and microscope analysis to address questions of working procedure.

5. Questions of Attribution and Dating (Maryan Ainsworth)
Establishing the attribution and late dating of the painting within the context of Jan van Eyck’s oeuvre.

6. The Met’s Crucifixion and the Related Rotterdam Drawing (Maryan Ainsworth) 
A discussion of the recently rediscovered Crucifixion drawing in Rotterdam, Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum and its relationship to the Met’s painting. Revelations concerning workshop practice and Van Eyck’s relationship to manuscript illumination.

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