Restoration of five paintings by Theodoor van Loon

On the occasion of the very first retrospective of the work of the Flemish Baroque painter Theodoor van Loon, several major works have undergone a thorough restoration, revealing their original colours and splendour. A fantastic opportunity to discover his work this autumn in Brussels!

Theodoor van Loon, Altarpiece with the Holy Trinity, with the Virgin, Saint John the Baptist and angels: before and after the restoration © KIK/IRPA, Brussels
Theodoor van Loon, Altarpiece with the Holy Trinity, with the Virgin, Saint John the Baptist and angels: before and after the restoration © KIK/IRPA, Brussels

Theodoor van Loon was one of the first painters in the Southern Netherlands to be heavily influenced by Caravaggio’s work and style. Like his contemporary Rubens, he was inspired by the Italian masters, developing his own powerful and unique style. Van Loon was one of the most prominent painters of his generation, executing prestigious commissions for the court of the Archdukes Albert and Isabella and for various religious orders in Brussels and the surrounding region. Over time, his work and career were overshadowed however. Nowadays, the work of the Brussels masters is no longer well known, except in art historical circles. By joining forces, BOZAR and the Royal Museums of Fine Arts Belgium want to reverse this evolution. This very first exhibition on Van Loon’s work highlights his exceptional talent, giving visitors the opportunity to (re)discover this unique artist.

To ensure the public can enjoy the full splendour of Theodoor van Loon’s artistry, several paintings have been especially restored for this exhibition. The Baillet Latour Fund has funded the restoration of five paintings by Van Loon, with the gracious intervention of the King Baudouin Foundation. The Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA, Brussels) restored the paintings, which are all masterpieces of Brussels art heritage. Four of the works are exhibited in the Church of Saint John the Baptist at the Béguinage (which was devastated by a fire in 2000) and one work belongs to the Brussels Carmel.

Four restorers of the KIK-IRPA spent one year working on the restoration, assisted by a multidisciplinary team of photographers, imaging specialists and chemists. As the five works date from different periods in the artist’s life and career, they perfectly illustrate Van Loon’s creative process. The painter’s materials and methods were mapped with infrared reflectography, X-ray photography, macro XRF and the analysis of paint samples. The large number of compositional changes, while the painting was being worked out in paint, is unusual. Van Loon continued to adapt and refine his composition mid-painting, right up to the signing of the canvas.

The varied, luminous and colourful quality of the paintings after restoration is especially noteworthy. The paintings have also undergone preventive conservation treatment, thereby ensuring the long-term future of these unique Brussels painting.


Theodoor van Loon. A Caravaggist painter between Rome and Brussels

Theodoor van Loon, Le Martyre de Saint-Lambert, 1617 © KIK-IRPA, Brussel
Theodoor van Loon, Le Martyre de Saint-Lambert, 1617 © KIK-IRPA, Brussel

Theodoor van Loon (1581/82-1649) was a successful Flemish painter, who mainly worked in Brussels. He spent some time in Rome and in the early seventeenth century introduced the new Italian visual language in the Southern Netherlands. Like Peter Paul Rubens, he was inspired by the art of Caravaggio, Barocci, the Carraccis and Domenichino. The elite appreciated his work, leading him to work for the Archdukes Albert and Isabella among others. Van Loon’s work is mainly of a religious nature, and like Rubens he was a painter of the Counter-Reformation, executing commissions for churches in and around Brussels as well as for the Basilica of Our Lady of Scherpenheuvel.

Van Loon’s powerful, original Baroque style still makes a strong impression on us today because of its majestic, almost three-dimensional vivid figures, modelled by the light and shadows around them. Like Barocci and Caravaggio, he created compositions with larger than life figures, with sweeping gestures and full faces. In the same vein as the artists from Bologna, Van Loon’s compositions are well organised, with a distinct colour palette, but he also pays great attention to texture and ornamentation, like the artists of the North.

The exhibition will feature around fifty works, including representative paintings, prints and drawings by Van Loon as well as a selection of works of painters who influenced him including Barocci, the Carraccis and various Caravaggists, or artists he influenced in turn. The works were loaned from various international museums (Louvre, Gallerie degli Uffizzi, Kunstmuseum Basel…), Belgian museums (Royal Museums of Fine Arts Belgium, M-Museum Leuven…) and various international private collections and churches.

After Brussels, a smaller exhibition will travel to the Musée national d’histoire et d’art in Luxembourg.

See also