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27.4.11

Konrad Witz Back in Basel

The Kunstmuseum Basel has a new retrospective on Konrad Witz. The somewhat mysterious medieval artist, whose few paintings are sometimes compared to those of Leonardo decades later, was one of the beneficiaries of the ecclesiastical council called at Basel in 1431. Only about thirty works are attributed to Witz, but the exhibit situates his paintings within the context of many others from the period. Harry Bellet wrote a review (Découvrir les secrets de Konrad Witz, April 26) for Le Monde (my translation):
The work of Konrad Witz is in effect placed in relationship with other artists of his temp, connections often very pertinent, if only to understand how much this painter was an innovator. Unlike his predecessors, his architecture is solid, realistic, far from theatrical backdrops that characterize what one calls the International Gothic. He was careful to place cast shadows well, to show himself skilled in the treatment of reflections, like those of the purple robe of Melchisedech giving the bread and wine to Abraham, whose cuirasse is tinted red.

Sumptuous reds are another recent rediscovery: the paintings suffered damage over time, and a network of tiny cracks had made everything gray. The restorers of the Kunstmuseum accomplished a saving work, washing them with a special resin that returned subtlety and depth to the glazes. To compare these panels with the one conserved at the Musée des beaux-arts in Dijon, which has not benefited from the same treatment, is the proof. These works, which fill the second room of the exhibit, are part of a group, today spread around, known as the Mirror of Salvation altarpiece. The exhibit reunites twelve of the sixteen panels.
The Miraculous Draught of Fishes could not be moved safely to be included in the exhibit, but there is the set of painted playing cards known as the Ambras Court Hunting pack.

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