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Monumental and intense: “Between pain and bliss”. Hugo van der Goes in the Gemäldegalerie | 31.03.-16.07.2023

Editors’ Choice

Since 31 March 2023, the Berlin Gemäldegalerie is showing the exhibition Between Pain and Bliss. Hugo van der Goes (c. 1440-1482/83) was the most important Dutch artist of the second half of the 15th century. His works impress with their monumentality and intense colourfulness as well as with their astonishing closeness to life and emotional expressiveness. In March 2023, 540 years after the artist’s death, the Berlin Gemäldegalerie will celebrate a premiere: for the first time, almost all of the artist’s surviving paintings and drawings will be presented in one exhibition.

Fig. above: Hugo van der Goes. Zwischen Schmerz und Seligkeit, Ausstellungsansicht, Gemäldegalerie 2023, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / David von Becker

Although Hugo van der Goes must be mentioned in the same breath as pioneering masters such as Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden, no monographic exhibition has ever been devoted to his complete works. This is probably due to both the rarity of his works and their often large format. Two of his monumental works, the “Monforte Altarpiece” (c. 1470/75) and the “Birth of Christ” (c. 1480), are in the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin. For this reason, the collection lends itself to a special exhibition like no other. Both panel paintings have been lavishly restored in the past twelve years and show themselves in a previously undreamed-of freshness. Van der Goes’ late masterpiece, the “Death of the Virgin” from the Groeningemuseum in Bruges, which has never left Flanders before, has also recently undergone extensive restoration and will be a highlight of the Berlin show.

The biography of Hugo van der Goes fascinates today to the same extent as his paintings. The painter, who worked as an independent master in Ghent from 1467 onwards, broke off his successful secular career in the mid-1470s for unknown reasons and entered a monastery near Brussels as a lay brother. It was there that most of his preserved works were created. After a few years in the monastery, however, Hugo was suddenly struck by a mysterious mental illness, which a confrere later reported: the painter believed himself damned and tried to take his own life. In the late 19th century, van der Goes was therefore regarded as the prototype of the “mad genius” with whom even Vincent van Gogh identified.

With the help of some 60 top-class exhibits, including loans from 38 international collections, the Berlin exhibition will bring the art of Hugo van der Goes to life in a way never seen before. The focus will be on twelve of the 14 paintings now attributed to van der Goes as well as the two drawings considered to be his own work. In addition, compositions by the master that were once known but lost in the original will be presented in contemporary repetitions and redrawings. Finally, the exhibition is dedicated to the painter’s immediate successor with a selection of outstanding works clearly influenced by Hugo van der Goes’ style, such as the spectacular “Hippolytus Triptych” from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the famous “Adoration of Christ” by the French painter Jean Hey from the Musée Rolin in Autun.

Hugo van der Goes. Zwischen Schmerz und Seligkeit, Ausstellungsansicht, Gemäldegalerie 2023, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin / David von Becker

In the Gemäldegalerie, the works of one of the most important European artists at the turn of the early modern period are brought together almost in their entirety for the first time. Van der Goes knew how to portray the emotions of his figures with the greatest empathy – both heavenly bliss and earthly pain. These contradictory states were obviously also close together in his own life. Thus, the painter of the late Middle Ages still appears surprisingly modern today.

“Hugo van der Goes. Between Pain and Bliss” is curated by Stephan Kemperdick, curator of Old Netherlandish and Old German painting at the Gemäldegalerie, and Erik Eising, research assistant at the Gemäldegalerie.

The exhibition is supported by the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media and the Kaiser Friedrich Museumsverein. Media cooperation: Der Tagesspiegel, Klassik Radio, tipBerlin and WELTKUNST.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue published by Hirmer Verlag, Munich: 304 pages, 250 illustrations, ISBN (German edition): 978-3-7774-3847-4, ISBN (English edition): 978-3-7774-3848-1. Price: €55 (bookshop), €39 (museum shop).


Kulturforum, Gemäldegalerie
10785 Berlin


Exhibition dates:

Friday, 31 March – Sunday, 16 July 2023

Opening hours:

Tue – Fri 10 am – 6 pm
Thu 10 am – 8 pm
Sat + Sun 10 am – 6 pm

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