After 16 years of painstaking work specialists at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp (KMSKA) have finished the restoration of Christ with Singing and Music-Making Angels, a 15th-century triptych by Hans Memling (c. 1430-1494), a German-born artist who spent most of his career in Bruges.
Read more about Memling in this article from The Low Countries Yearbook.
Memling is thought to have painted the triptych in the late 1480s as part of an altarpiece for the church Santa Maria la Real at the Benedictine abbey in Nájera in the north of Spain. The actual altarpiece was lost, but in 1895 the triptych reached the KMSKA.
The work portrays Christ on the central panel with three singing angels on either side, and five musicians on each of the side panels. It is seen as an illustration of the musical life of the time and a magnificent example of 15th-century Southern Netherlandish panel painting. Memling is thought to have been inspired by the Lamb of God, the altarpiece painted half a century earlier by the Van Eyck brothers.
The museum made the decision to embark on the complex restoration of the 110,880 cm2 triptych in 2001, under the guidance of an international committee of experts, employing x-ray and infra-red techniques to find out what lay beneath the surface paint.
The restoration work was subsequently carried out millimetre by millimetre, peeling away discoloured layers of varnish with a scalpel to expose the original paint, filling cracks and retouching where necessary before applying a new layer of varnish.
Sixteen years on, the work is complete, ready for display in the renovated museum in 2019.
For details on the triptych see www.kmska.be/en/collectie/highlights/Christus_engelen.html.