The article below was published in Pinnable’s newsletter in . The exhibition Face to Face with Death ended on 5 February 2023.

Flemish Primitives

Face to Face with Death

The Northern Renaissance painters active in the Burgundian & Habsburg Netherlands during the 15th & early 16th centuries are generally referred to as the Flemish Primitives. Famous for their realism, these painters include, amongst others, Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden, and Hans Memling. Major institutions showing their work are the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp, the Museum of Fine Arts Ghent, and the Groeninge Museum in Bruges. On until 5 February 2023, the exhibition Face to Face with Death at St John’s Hospital in Bruges shows the recently restored painting The Death of the Virgin by Hugo van der Goes & a further seventy works by other Flemish Primitives.

Hugo van der Goes: The Death of the Virgin
The Death of the Virgin (c. 1475)

The Death of the Virgin depicts the twelve Apostles around the deathbed of the Mother of God. The 550-year-old panel is literally & figuratively placed in a central position, and surrounded by paintings, sculptures & manuscripts that explore Van der Goes’ masterwork from different angles and that bring visitors face to face with death in its different forms. The exhibition invites visitors to pause & reflect on a number of timeless subjects, such as saying a last farewell to loved ones, the meaning of death, and spirituality. In addition, the exhibition examines the life & the iconic significance of the Virgin and sheds new light on the virtuosity of Hugo van der Goes.

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Under the influence of the Church, Mary developed into the undisputed superstar of Christian religious iconography. In the late Middle Ages, artists tended to portray Mary as a compassionate & accessible figure. Whereas Christ was divine & remote, Our Lady was depicted as the human & humane Mother of God. The death of Mary was not only a source of inspiration for artists, but also played an important role in wider Christian belief. In the apocryphal stories relating to Mary’s passing, fear for her impending demise was wholly absent. The emphasis was placed instead on death as a release, opening a gateway to a heavenly future in the presence of God.


In 2023, the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin will host a monographic exhibition focusing on Hugo van der Goes. The museum is home to two of his paintings, The Adoration of the Kings & The Adoration of the Shepherds, which will play a central role in the exhibition.