The press conference “A Date with Belgium – The World of Van Eyck” was held on 15 April in Beijing where attendees and media alike could enjoy the magic from “Flanders – State of the Art” and “Flemish Masters”. Our Ambassador Jan Hoogmartens was present and used this opportunity to present our rich Belgian history and cultural heritage.
From the 15th to the end of the 17th century, Flanders had some of the finest art in Western Europe which inspired many famous art movements such as the Flemish primitives, renaissance art and baroque art. Artists such as Rubens, Brueghel and Van Eyck were not only highly skilled but also used creative and innovative techniques. Van Eyck, for example, is credited with improving the mixing technique for oil paints which sometimes gets him called the “inventor of oil painting”.
The Ghent Altarpiece, painted by Jan Van Eyck and his brother Hubert, is a Belgian national treasure and is widely regarded as the “first real oil painting in history”. In 2012, the city of Ghent initiated the restoration work of this masterpiece. This restoration was much more difficult than experts had expected: many repainted coatings were found, including the 1550 overpainting which obscures 90% of Van Eyck’s original. It took the experts nine long years to remove the overpainting and to give the world a glimpse of what the altarpiece would have looked like in the 15th century
The Ghent Altarpiece has been moved to the St Bavo’s Cathedral where a custom-made glass case keeps the temperature and humidity constant in order to better protect it. Virtual reality devices are available for visitors to better understand the extraordinary history behind the making of the masterpiece. In addition to the Altarpiece, the Year of Van Eyck includes a range of activities including visual arts, theatre, design, gastronomy, music and themed city tours. Li Xin, Director China for VISITFLANDERS, explains: “We know you can’t go there yet, so we will give you a taste of St Bavo’s visitor centre and the activities of the Year of Van Eyck through videos and “cloud tours””.
Our Ambassador explained that he first saw the Ghent Altarpiece when he was 11 years old, when the lighting and the conditions were far less favourable than today, but he was deeply impressed and remembers it vividly to this day. He added that he hopes that cultural exchanges such as this Year of Van Eyck, powered by hi-tech, will promote cultural exchanges between China and Belgium.