Saint George Altarpiece by Jan Borman
To mark the 25th anniversary of CODART, each month we introduce you to one of the hundred exceptional masterpieces of early modern Dutch and Flemish art (1350-1750) selected by museum curators from around the world for the CODART Canon. This time, all eyes are on the Saint George Altarpiece by Jan Borman at the Museum of Art & History in Brussels.
Jan Borman I (?), Jan Borman II, Saint George Altarpiece, 1493, oak, unpolychromed, 163.5 × 248.5 × 30.5 cm, Royal Museums of Art and History, Brussels © KMKG, Brussels
The Saint George Altarpiece is ‘the altarpiece that keeps on giving’, every time you look at it. The almost two-and-a-half-meter-long altarpiece contains countless details and Borman’s technical mastery, which time and again coaxes near-impossible feats of representation from hard oak, and never ceases to amaze.
Detail of the central scene © KMKG, Brussels
All of this takes place while the principal character endures many tortures - seven to be exact - seemingly unmoved, as befits a good martyr. The drama of each scene takes place in a semi-circular, theatre-like setting. As a result of this clever intervention, the complicated altarpiece scenes acquired clarity and a clear structure, making them more legible to believers at the time.
Detail of the left and right wing © KMKG, Brussels
This is precisely the importance of the Saint George Altarpiece in specific and the Borman dynasty in general. The Borman workshop revolutionized late Gothic Brabantine sculpture by combining exceptional carving skills with an innovative narrative style.
Marjan Debaene, Head of Collections, M Leuven, Leuven