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

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-59690-7
  • Hardback
  • Available

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.


« Répétons-le: Maryan W. Ainsworth propose un ouvrage à la pointe de l’érudition et du savoir; félicitons-la aussi pour l’iconographie très riche, n’obligeant pas le lecteur à rechercher les figures à travers le livre. Regrettons cependant l’absence d’index, des personnes, des lieux et des œuvres. » (Jacques Paviot, dans Francia-Recensio, 4, 2023)

“(…) a model of high-quality, interdisciplinary research which presents both a challenge and a genuine inspiration to the reader, forcing the reassessment and rethinking of any number of beliefs and ideas. It will undoubtedly make an enduring contribution to the vast Van Eyck literature on which it so impressively draws.” (Susan Frances Jones, in Historians of Netherlandish Art Reviews, February 2024)


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.


Maryan W. Ainsworth

The Technical Examination and Restoration of the Frames
Sophie Scully and Silvia A. Centeno

In Search of the Original Form and Function of the Crucifixion and Last Judgment
Maryan W. Ainsworth

Investigating Van Eyck’s Working Technique
Sophie Scully and Silvia A. Centeno

Attribution and Dating Questions in Historical Context
Maryan W. Ainsworth

Reconsidering the Relationship Between The Met Painting and the Rotterdam Crucifixion Drawing
Maryan W. Ainsworth

Appendix A. Deciphering the Middle Dutch Text on the Crucifixion and Last Judgment Frames
Marc Smith —

Appendix B. Transcriptions of the Texts within the Crucifixion and Last Judgment
Christina Meckelnborg


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