Many art historians have eyed Three Maries At The Tomb and agreed that it’s a Van Eyck. What’s debated is whether Jan painted the artwork or whether it was his older brother Hubert. Or more likely, whether the painting was a sibling collaboration.
For example, the brothers both worked on the famous Ghent Altarpiece: An inscription on the back says it was started by Hubert and finished by Jan, six years after Hubert’s death.
However, art historians debate which brother had a greater influence on the paintings in the Ghent Altarpiece. Did Jan humbly follow his older brother’s stylistic lead or did Jan turn the artwork into a masterpiece with his own artistic flair?
These sorts of questions also arise with Three Maries At The Tomb.
There’s a good chance it was also a brotherly collaboration: Art historians note that Three Maries At The Tomb is stylistically similar to a painting in the Ghent Altarpiece called Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. Furthermore, experiments to date Three Maries At The Tomb’s wood backing suggest the artwork was made sometime after 1419, which is before Hubert died in 1426.
This week, science will weigh in further on the sibling teamwork.
Conservators at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam are currently preparing Three Maries At The Tomb for an exhibit later this year.
During this process, they requested the services of MOLAB, the traveling group of conservation scientists from Perugia, Italy. (MOLAB is funded by the European Union to help museums do scientific research on art, with equipment they might not otherwise be able to afford. Before Rotterdam, MOLAB was just in Gdańsk, Poland, where they were working on some Memling paintings at the National Museum.)
MOLAB scientists will use all sorts of snazzy, non-invasive equipment to image the artwork’s surface and interior in 3D. They will also use X-rays and infrared light to study the painting’s pigment chemistry.
Museum researchers will then compare this data with previous results from experiments on the Ghent Altarpiece paintings. These investigations may help museum researchers eventually figure out who did what on the collaborative paintings—not just Jan or Hubert, but also other artists and conservators who retouched the painting over its several centuries of life.
If you want to do your own (visual) examinations of Three Maries At The Tomb, check out the Road To Van Eyck exhibit in Rotterdam later this year.
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