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Travelogue A19

May 29, 2014

I spent my final day perusing the contents of the few city museums that I had not visited in the days prior. My visit to the Stadhuis took me to the upper floors and the overwrought Gothic stylings of an old assembly hall or meeting chamber. Upon the walls to either side, an artist had mixed paints with wax to create soft-light murals depicting important scenes from Bruges’ history: the opening of a canal to the sea, the triumphant return of the local lord’s army, market days, perhaps even the city’s founding. Interesting though these were, and perhaps merely that, I was drawn to n° 4 which portrayed a visit by city officials to Jan van Eyck’s Bruges workshop. In the foreground can be found all the elements that I might expect of such a visit: high-ranking officials in flowing robes, van Eyck standing to one side and welcoming them with open hand, docile wife behind, various works scattered about the workshop’s easels and walls.

 

The upper left corner holds, however, one unusual work, perhaps in virtue of being unfinished, but, equally plausibly, following some obscure design or other of van Eyck. Here, I found a sort of mobile, suspended from the ceiling, and in the shape of a woman’s upper half. From the back of this partial torso spring tree branches or, at least, what seem to be such. As at odds as this surreal mobile stands with the rest of the works visible here and there, I savoured the thought that it was the most essential piece to be found there, van Eyck’s penance for the rules and regularity of the visible, his forfeiture to the uncanny and unseen. Whatever the truth of the matter, the piece remains tucked away in the corner of a mural which is itself tucked into the chamber’s vault.

 

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