Musea Brugge presents the exhibition 'Face to face with Death. Hugo van der Goes, old masters and new interpretations'

On 28 October, a new top-class exhibition for Musea Brugge will open in the Sint- Janshospitaal: ‘Face to face with Death. Hugo van der Goes, old masters and new interpretations’. Van der Goes’ masterpiece, ‘The Death of the Virgin’, will feature both literally and figuratively as the central point for this ground-breaking exhibition. The recently restored painting will serve as a source of inspiration for seventy or so other works, drawn from Musea Brugge’s own collections or on loan from museums throughout Europe.

‘The Death of the Virgin’ is one of the most important works in Musea Brugge’s world-famous collection of Flemish Primitive art. It is an undisputed masterpiece, a magnum opus of the very highest quality that moves us, inspires us and gives us pause to reflect. This was the case back in the 15th century and it is still the case today. The painting has lost none of its power to intrigue and the experience it continues to evoke forms the basis for the exhibition. How is it possible for a work of art to still tell a universal story and call to mind recognisable themes more than five centuries after its creation? This innovative exhibition will provide the answer.

Restauration and research

Between 2018 and 2022, ‘The Death of the Virgin’ was extensively restored, under the leadership of Griet Steyaert and with the collaboration of Marie Postec. The result is truly outstanding. The remarkable and characterful heads of the apostles, the architectonic setting and the surprising colour palette can now all be better seen and more fully appreciated than ever before. Before the masterpiece is returned to its permanent home in the Groeningemuseum, it deserves to be given a central place in an exhibition of its own.

However, the fact that the painting has recently been restored was not the sole reason for organising this exhibition. During the past few years, much research has been carried out to gain deeper insights into the artistic style and the iconography content of the work of Hugo van der Goes, his contemporaries and followers, and other works that can be related to ‘The Death of the Virgin’. Musea Brugge now wishes to share this up-to-date knowledge with the wider general public, using its own collection as the basis, but supplemented with a number of outstanding works on loan, all of which are presented in a truly innovative manner.

70 top works of art

‘Face to face with Death’ places ‘The Death of the Virgin’ quite literally in a central position. Around this painting are gathered a number of traditional and new stories that shed light on its related themes. We invite our visitors to spontaneously devise their own route through the various elements on display. In this respect, six different angles of approach are designed to play a guiding and explanatory role. The exhibition layout is not compulsory, but presents opportunities to move freely between the works of art and the themes they represent.

More than seventy 14th, 15th and 16th century art objects – fine pieces from Musea Brugge’s own collection, supplemented with loans from all over Europe – illustrate each of the six angles. Paintings by (amongst others) Hugo van der Goes, Hans Memling, Petrus Christus, Geertgen tot Sint Jans, Jan Provoost and Albrecht Bouts are juxtaposed with sculptures, manuscripts and devotional items. Some of these objects have been chosen to serve as ‘drivers’. They immediately clarify the meaning of the angle of approach to which they refer and the introductory space in which they are located. In addition to these older pieces, five New Masters also expand on the art and cultural-historical meaning of ‘The Death of the Virgin’.

Five New Masters

In the exhibition, Hugo van der Goes’ painting will be analysed, questioned and interpreted from the perspective of five contemporary interpretations. Five ‘New Masters’ – writers, theatre makers, artists – will play a key role in the exhibition story. They will each explore a different angle of approach based on their own discipline, examining their personal relationship with ‘The Death of the Virgin’ and the relationship with their professional and individual experience worlds. In this way, the New Masters will create a contemporary dialogue with both the painting and with the exhibition’s visitors.

  • Berlinde De Bruyckere (1964), a top Belgian artist with numerous domestic and foreign exhibitions in renowned museums to her name.
  • Ivo van Hove (1958), theatre and opera director, and also director of the International Theatre of Amsterdam. He has already worked with several top international names, including David Bowie on the musical Lazarus.
  • Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker (1960), one of Belgium’s most lauded choreographers and dancers. Founder of the world-renowned company Rosas, and inspiration and mentor to dance companies from around the world.
  • Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer (1968), Dutch poet and author of bestsellers such as Grand Hotel Europa and La Superba, for which he received the Libris Literature Award.
  • Sholeh Rezazadeh (1989), a young Iranian-Dutch writer and doctor. With her debut novel ‘De hemel is altijd paars’ (The Sky Is Always Purple) she stood out in the international literary world and won several awards.

Practical information

Face to face with Death.
Hugo van der Goes, old masters, new interpretations

28.10.2022 – 05.02.2023
Curator: Sibylla Goegebuer

Sint-Janshospitaal Mariastraat 38 8000 Bruges

Hours of opening
From Tuesday to Sunday, from 09.30 to 17.00 Closed on 25/12 and 01/01

Tickets and info

Press File

Press File

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To accompany the exhibition, Hannibal Books will publish ‘Face to face with Hugo van der Goes − Old Master, New Interpretation’, a fine art book about ‘The Death of the Virgin’.

The publication offers an insight into the timeless and contemporary relevance of this outstanding work of art and devotes attention to the iconic value of an oeuvre that for many still awaits discovery.

With text contributions by Matthias Depoorter, Lieven De Visch, Marijn Everaarts, Sibylla Goegebuer, Griet Steyaert and Anne van Oosterwijk.

Selection of images

More images available via this link.

Portraits of the New Masters

About the Sint-Janshospitaal (St John’s Hospital)

The St John’s Hospital is one of the oldest preserved hospital buildings in Europe, dating from the middle of the 12th century. Initially, these early hospitals were not hospitals in the modern sense, but rather guest houses. These were places that provided shelter and also a meal for any guest in need: pilgrims, travellers, merchants, passers-by, homeless, sick, elderly... The so-called ‘medical care’ in the earliest period was minimal, whereas mental or spiritual care was provided by the priests present.

Today, the medieval wards and their associated church and chapel house an impressive collection of archives, works of art, medical instruments and seven works by Hans Memling, including the famous Ursula shrine. The museum also houses the hospital apothecary and the Diksmuide attic, whose oak roof truss is among the oldest and most monumental in Europe.

Early February 2023, after the exhibition Face to face with Death, the Bruges St John’s Hospital will close its doors for a thorough renovation. The museum will be restyled and get a new permanent collection presentation. On the basis of universal themes, relevant, topical and stimulating stories will be told about our collection, the historic hospital site - including the old pharmacy and herb garden - and (healthcare) history. The renewed museum will be a place that speaks to the heart. The refurbished St John’s Hospital will open its doors in the autumn of 2023.

About Musea Brugge

Musea Brugge invites diverse audiences to discover, to study, to admire and enjoy, to add meaning and to enrich the significance of its world-class collections. Musea Brugge enjoys international renown for its rich collections, and in particular for its outstanding collection of 15th- and 16th-century masterpieces from the Southern Netherlands.

In 2022, the Flemish Government designated Musea Brugge as a new cultural-heritage institution. This title is given to organisations that administer collections in combination with wide-ranging cultural-heritage activities at an international level. The designation commission praised in particular Musea Brugge’s collection, its international reputation and its policies toward collection management and public participation. With this designation, Musea Brugge has been recognised as one of the flagship organisations in the domain of Flemish cultural heritage, allowing it to take its place alongside the two other cultural heritage institutions – M HKA and KMSKA – as a leading and trendsetting player in the future development of cultural heritage in Flanders.


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Micha Pycke
+32 (0)486 680 070


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