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Saturday, May 31 • 3:00pm - 3:30pm
(Paintings + Wooden Artifacts Session) Window of Opportunity: The Restoration Project of the Ghent Altarpiece

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The Ghent Altarpiece by Jan and Hubert van Eyck (1432) is one of the most iconic works of Western Art as it embodies the birth of new skills and vision. It is still housed in Saint Bavo Cathedral (Ghent), the site for which it was created. Here it is seen by thousands of visitors a year. In October 2012, a five-year 1.2 million Euro restoration project by a team of conservators from the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA) began for this work.

A painting with this level of cultural importance could not be taken off view for an extended period of time. The decision was therefore made to conduct the three-phase treatment in a gallery in the Museum of Fine Arts Ghent behind a large glass window so the public could follow every step. This approach created the need to inform the visitors who are not accustomed to witnessing conservators at work. The window maintains a barrier but with its transparency, it creates new opportunities for engagement. How can the demystification of conservation work influence the perceived value of painting conservation and collection care? In what new ways can information exchange happen in this specific situation? Are there chances for misunderstanding or negative misinterpretation on the part of the museum visitor?

This paper will address the early experiences of conservators who, by working in the public eye, take on unforeseen responsibilities and challenges. These conservators must find the equilibrium between assisting with public outreach and conducting the treatment; all this while maintaining constant dialogue with the different partners and safeguarding a strict deadline for the project.

 The author will explore these experiences in this very specific and complex project in the hope they can be useful and instructive for similar undertakings in the future.

avatar for Bart Devolder

Bart Devolder

Onsite Coordinator for the Restoration of the Ghent Altarpiece, Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage
Bart J. C. Devolder received his M.A. in painting conservation in 2002 at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp, Belgium. He held internships at the Akademia Sztuk Pieknych Krakow, Poland, the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA), Brussels and at the Musée du Louvre... Read More →

Saturday May 31, 2014 3:00pm - 3:30pm PDT
Bayview A-B