Hugo van der Goes, The Fall of Man, ca. 1477-1479 © Kunsthistorisches Museum mit MVK und ÖTM

BERLIN- Hugo van der Goes (c. 1440–1482/83) was the most important Netherlandish artist of the second half of the 15th century. His works impress with their monumentality and intense colours as well as with their astonishing closeness to life and emotional expressivity. 540 years after the artist’s death, Berlin’s Gemäldegalerie will celebrate a premiere: for the first time, almost all of the artist’s surviving paintings and drawings will be presented in one exhibition.

Although Hugo van der Goes must be mentioned in the same breath as pioneering masters such as Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden, no monographic exhibition has ever been dedicated to his oeuvre. This is likely due to both the rarity of his works and their often large format. Two of his monumental paintings, the Monforte Altarpiece (c. 1470/75) and Nativity (c. 1480), are in the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin. For this reason, the collection lends itself to a special exhibition like no other. Both Berlin panels have been painstakingly restored in the past twelve years and show themselves in a freshness previously unimagined. Van der Goes’ late masterpiece, the Death of the Virgin from the Groeningemuseum in Bruges, which has never left Flanders before, has also been extensively restored recently and will form a highlight of the Berlin show. 


Hugo van der Goes, Monforte Altarpiece, ca. 1470 © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemäldegalerie / Dietmar Gunne.


Hugo van der Goes, The Nativity, ca. 1480 © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemäldegalerie / Dietmar Gunne.


Hugo van der Goes, Death of the Virgin, c. 1480, Bruges, Groeningemuseum © Musea Brugge, /photo: Dominique Provost

Prototype of the “Mad Genius”?

Hugo van der Goes’ biography fascinates today to the same degree as his paintings. The artist, who worked as an independent master in Ghent from 1467 onwards, abandoned his successful worldly career in the mid-1470s for unknown reasons and entered a monastery near Brussels as a lay brother. It was there that most of his preserved works were created. After a few years in the monastery, however, Hugo was suddenly struck by a mysterious mental illness, which a fellow brother later reported: the painter believed himself to be damned and tried to take his own life. In the late 19th century, van der Goes was therefore regarded as the prototype of the “mad genius”, with whom even Vincent van Gogh identified.

Hugos Œuvre Almost in Its Entirety

With around 60 outstanding exhibits, including loans from 38 international collections, the Berlin exhibition will bring the art of Hugo van der Goes to life in a way that has never been seen before. The focus will be on twelve of the fourteen paintings now attributed to van der Goes as well as the two drawings considered to be by his own hand. In addition, compositions by the master that were once well known but lost in the original will be presented through contemporary painted and drawn copies. Lastly, the exhibition will also focus on the painter’s immediate followers with a selection of outstanding works clearly influenced by Hugo van der Goes’ style, such as the spectacular Triptych of Saint Hippolytus from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the famous Nativity by French painter Jean Hey from the Musée Rolin in Autun.



Jean Hey, Nativity of Cardinal Jean Rolin, c. 1480, © Musée Rolin, Autun

In the Gemäldegalerie, the œuvre of one of the most important European artists at the turn of the early modern period is brought together almost in its entirety for the first time. Van der Goes knew how to portray the emotions of his figures with the greatest empathy – both heavenly bliss and earthly pain. These contradictory states were apparently also closely intertwined in his own life. Thus the late-medieval painter still appears surprisingly modern today.

Hugo van der Goes. Between Pain and Bliss is curated by Stephan Kemperdick, curator of Early Netherlandish and Early German Painting at the Gemäldegalerie, and Erik Eising, assistant curator at the Gemäldegalerie.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue, published by Hirmer Publishers, Munich: 304 pages, 250 reproductions, ISBN (German edition): 978-3-7774-3847-4, ISBN (English edition): 978-3-7774-3848-1. Price: 55 € (retail), 39 € (museum bookshop).


Hugo van der Goes, Triptych of Mary (central panel), c. 1477/79, Frankfurt, Städel Museum, © Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main.


Hugo van der Goes, The Four Mourning Women and John the Evangelist, c. 1480, © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemäldegalerie / Christoph Schmidt.


Hugo van der Goes, Lamentation of Christ of the Vienna Diptych, c. 1477/79, Wien, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Gemäldegalerie, © KHM-Museumsverband.


Hugo van der Goes, St. Genoveva of the Vienna Diptych, c. 1477/79, Wien, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Gemäldegalerie, © KHM-Museumsverband.


Hugo van der Goes, Portrait of a Man with John the Baptist, c. 1475/80, Baltimore, The Walters Art Museum, © The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.


Hugo van der Goes, Mary and Child, after 1476, Pavia, Musei Civici di Pavia, © Musei Civici di Pavia


Hugo van der Goes, St. Luke Draws the Madonna, c. 1475/80, Lisbon, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, © Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga – Direção-Geral do Património Cultural / Arquivo e Documentação Fotográfica, photo: Luísa Oliveira


Hugo van der Goes or Circle, Portrait of a Man, c. 1475/80, New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.


Circle of Hugo van der Goes, Mary and Child with Saints, c. 1480, Antwerpen, The Phoebus Foundation, © The Phoebus Foundation


Berlin Master of Mary of Burgundy, Crescent Moon Madonna, from the Book of Hours of the Mary of Burgundy, c. 1477/82, © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett / Jörg P. Anders


Berlin Master of Mary of Burgundy, The Three Living and The Three Dead, from the Book of Hours of Mary of Burgundy, c. 1477/82, © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett / Jörg P. Anders


Viennese Master of Mary of Burgundy, Announcement to the Shepherds, from the Voustre-demeure Book of Hours, c. 1475/80, © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett / Jörg P. Anders


Copy after Hugo van der Goes, Deposition of Christ, c. 1500/20, Napoli, Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, © Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, Napoli


Émile Wauters, The Madness of Hugo van der Goes, 1872, Brussels, Royal Museums of Art Belgium, © MRBAB, Brussels, photo: J. Geleyns – Art Photography