One painter, six years of research, 25,000 kilometres
How close can you get to the creative genius of the Flemish master? The pioneering VERONA project has opened a whole new chapter in the study of the paintings of Jan van Eyck (c. 1390-1441). A permanent team of researchers and photographers from the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA) went on site to study and document all the paintings of Jan van Eyck housed in renowned museums in Belgium and abroad, in high resolution and according to a standardised protocol. This comprehensive visual material is now available online on the Closer to Van Eyck website.
In total, the initiative studied thirty-three paintings and the miniatures of a manuscript. Over a six-year period, our team covered no less than 25,000 kilometres to carry out this ambitious project. It would certainly not have been possible without the invaluable collaboration of numerous partner museums, including the Louvre Museum (Paris), the Gemäldegalerie (Berlin), the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Vienna), the Metropolitan Museum (New York), the Groeningemuseum (Bruges), the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten (Antwerp), the National Gallery (London), the Galleria Sabauda (Turin), the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, and many other organisations.
You can almost count the strands of hair on the men, and on the tails and manes of the horses. They are so finely painted that artists everywhere are completely astonished by the work.
A standardised protocol
Our photographers and scientific imaging experts examined each painting using macro-photography (normal light, grazing light, infrared and UV fluorescence), infrared reflectography and, in some cases, radiography and macro-XRF. These examinations were all carried out using the same equipment, resolution and lighting. The VERONA project followed a procedure identical to the one used to document the restoration of the Ghent Altarpiece. This standardised approach allows researchers to compare these paintings, which will probably never all be seen together in one place. It brings researchers a little closer to the original technique of Van Eyck, his students and his successors. Additionally, the reverse sides of the paintings were also documented, and photographs of the objects were taken, which show the works in three dimensions from different angles. In this way, their construction and function are made more visible.
The project is an excellent example of a standardised methodology for documenting works of art from different sites. Not only are the pictures of the highest quality, but they are also freely accessible for research and the general public.
VERONA comparative research
The rich visual material of the VERONA project has been made available online for free for research purposes on the website Closer to Van Eyck. The study of Van Eyck's work has been given a new boost. Until recently, the examination of these paintings under the microscope was an exceptional privilege, only available to a few restorers and museum curators. The sudden availability of high-quality macro-photographs of Van Eyck's work worldwide has certainly opened a new chapter in the study of the pioneer of Flemish painting.
European Heritage Award /Europa Nostra Award 2019
In 2019, the VERONA project was awarded the European Heritage Award / Europa Nostra Award for Research. "The VERONA project showed real European cooperation between the various museums, bringing together the owners of Van Eyck's works scattered all over Europe. The standardised system, developed for high-quality photography, and the digitisation of the image bank allow for genuine European interaction of research on Flemish primitives.", said the jury.
We are particularly honoured that the outstanding value of this project has been recognised with this prestigious European award. This initiative is an excellent example of the potential of open data and reflects the Institute's efforts to make our documentation and research discoveries accessible to a broader public.
Thanks to the results of the VERONA project, BOZAR and the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA) have put together an interactive digital exhibition named Facing Van Eyck, The Miracle of Detail (2020-2021). The audience was immersed in the enchanting world of Van Eyck's pictorial microcosm, full of details that are not easily visible. Thanks to a successful collaboration with Hovertone, the visitor could select details. Exploring the Flemish master's work became a unique experience driven by technology and science.
The VERONA project is financed by the Federal Science Policy (BELSPO) within the framework of the BRAIN programme (Belgian Research Action through Interdisciplinary Networks). It is supported by Musea Brugge and the collaboration of Closer to Van Eyck.