Painting Hanging in Office Identified As 400-Year-Old Baroque Masterpiece

A painting hanging on the office wall of a council office in Brussels and assumed to be a mere copy has been confirmed to be the earliest version of a Jacques Jordaens Baroque masterpiece.

The 15th-century artwork had adorned the wall of the Town Planning and Development Counselor's office in the Saint-Gilles City Hall for about 60 years before experts began asking questions about its authenticity.

An inventory carried out by the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (IRPA) confirmed the wood-panel painting to be the oldest known version of a composition of The Holy Family.

Jordaens painted the artwork several times, with iterations currently held in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Hermitage in Saint-Petersburg and the Alte Pinakothek in Munich.

Jacques Jordaens' 'Holy Family'
The earliest known version of Jacques Jordaens' 'Holy Family' was discovered at the Saint-Gilles - Sint-Gillis City Hall in Brussels and authenticated as the oldest known version by the Baroque Master. VIRGINIE LEFOUR

"A painting of the utmost importance by Antwerp Baroque Master Jacques Jordaens (1593-1678) has come to light at the Saint-Gillis City Hall in Brussels," the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium said in a statement on Tuesday.

"This unprecedented discovery was made by the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA) during an inventory commissioned by urban.brussels in 2019. The precious wood panel has now been authenticated as the oldest known version of a composition of the 'Holy Family' which Jordaens reiterated in at least three other panels."

The painting was found to date back to around 1617 or 1618.

"A fruitful year of scientific research later, with the combined expertise and collaboration of the KIK-IRPA, the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium and the international experts from the Jordaens Van Dyck Panel Paintings Project, the artwork has been credited without doubt to Jacques Jordaens and dated around 1617-1618," the Institute said.

Jacques Jordaens' 'Holy Family'
The seal of the Dutch family to whom the painting belonged is seen on the back of the Jordaens masterpiece. VIRGINIE LEFOUR/Getty

A painting by Baroque Master Jacques Jordaens was discovered at the #SaintGilles City Hall in Brussels!
We have teamed up with #KIKIRPA, @jvdppp, and @BrusselsUrban to research and restore this lost masterpiece!

Discover the story!📽️https://t.co/wxIhTeHcQe

(@ThomasDermine ) pic.twitter.com/uL01EyROKz

— Fine Arts Belgium (@FineArtsBelgium) December 8, 2020

A detailed analysis even revealed that the wood of the Jordaens panel comes from the same tree that was used in several compositions by Anthony Van Dyck, another Baroque Master.

The 400-year-old painting is set to undergo a one-year restoration campaign to ensure "the lasting conservation of this masterpiece for future generations."

"The yellowed varnishes and darkened touch-ups will be removed, while the backside of the panel will be treated to avoid new cracks in the wood or loss of paint," the Institute announced on Tuesday.

Analyses will also be carried out to understand the working method and painting technique of the young Jordaens.

By the end of 2021, the fully-restored artwork is set to be shown to the public at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium where one of the world's largest Jordaens collections is housed.

"It's an extraordinary moment of emotion to discover an original work by one of the greatest Baroque painters," KIK-IRPA Art Historian Constantin Pion said in a press release. "Just as it is to experience the fascinating scientific investigation that revealed that this "Holy Family" is an early painting and represents an important milestone in the work of Jacques Jordaens."

Michel Draguet, general director of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, described the discovery as a "major event" and "a missing milestone in the artist's work."

Jacob, or Jacques, Jordaens was born in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1593 where he lived and worked for most of his life until his death in 1678.

The Flemish painter was known for painting altarpieces, mythological, and allegorical scenes. He enjoyed much success during his lifetime, and was a contemporary of Pieter Paul Rubens and Anthony Van Dyke.

Jordaens was commissioned by King Charles I and Queen Christina of Sweden and made several paintings for the Town Hall in Amsterdam.

As well as being a successful painter, he was also a prominent designer of tapestries.