M Collection

Masters of sculpture

11.06.2017 - 19.08.2018

Identify the master's hand

M has a rich collection of medieval sculpture that is the subject of extensive research. However, there are few extant sources about the creators of these statues. By comparing them and analysing the styles and techniques with which they were made, we attempt to attribute them to a certain master or studio. This exhibition offers you as a viewer the language of sculpture so that you can read the statues yourself.

See, recognize and compare

The exhibition focuses in detail on two old Leuven masters. We must first consider the naming of the artists, which is associated with one type of statue that they made or which was made at their studio. But how likely is it that a sculptor or studio would only make one single type of statue? M aims to explore the issue in detail.

Traditionally, we refer to these artists as the Master of the Crucified Christ and the Master of the Cold Stone. These are two anonymous sculptors or two studios in Leuven – I am not yet convinced that it was a single artist – to which we ascribe various extant statues based on a number of shared stylistic elements. My aim is to deepen the research that has been conducted into these sculptures since the 1960s. Marjan Debaene, Head of Collections of Old Masters

Conduct your own stylistic research

Do the statues really belong together? And can we find details that provide us with more certainty? In the new museum arrangement, a number of works by both masters/studios have been grouped together. But one of the statues doesn’t match. We challenge you to compare the statues and to identify the odd one out based on your own analysis. Look at the way the loincloth hangs or the way one lock of hair hangs over Christ’s shoulder. And pay attention to the shape of the eyes or the position of the arms.

Layer by layer

Such stylistic research, however detailed it may be, is still subjective to some extent. M is therefore supplementing it with objective scientific research, in which the statues are analysed layer by layer. For the first time in Leuven, medieval statues are being analysed with a hospital scanner. Thanks to the CT scan at the Leuven University Hospitals, we can look beneath the painted layer and discover the hand of the master itself. Wooden sculptures are sometimes mounted from various different kinds of wood. For example, a sculptor might have used a branch for the arm. These elements are usually hidden, but we are now able to discover them. Determining the kind of wood that was used and how the various pieces were assembled provides us with an extremely valuable contribution to the correct attribution of sculptures to a certain group.