Revealing hidden 15th-century Renaissance art

Emma House by The Bowes Museum, County Durham


£22,455 raised
199 funders

Funded 14 August 2014

0% funded

106% funded

We would love to redisplay and conserve our 15th-century Flemish altarpiece to reveal six paintings by the Master of the View of Sainte Gudule, and to reunite them with carvings in the piece.

Works by this 15th-century Flemish artist are rare in the UK and the oil-on-panel paintings on the back of the altarpiece shutters have been hidden from view for years. Revealing them would give the public a much greater appreciation of the work of this Renaissance painter.

The redisplay will be carried out with the help of acclaimed furniture conservator Rupert McBain and will include the building of a new oak frame. The frame will incorporate a mechanism to allow the regular opening and closing of the panels, so that the public can see the hidden art behind.

The project will include the incorporation of figures, which are in store at the Museum, carved by the renowned Brussels Sculptors’ Guild. These will be reunited with the carvings in the altarpiece. Missing pillars that would have linked the intricate canopies to the oak carvings, expressing the arrest, crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, will be carved and replaced.

The altarpiece will be raised and displayed on a stand in our 15th-century gallery. It will be placed alongside paintings from our religious art collection to recreate the impression of its original position above the altar in a church.

On the reverse of the oak carvings are three mallet marks, the hallmark of the Brussels Sculptors’ Guild. In order to give visitors an insight into the authentication of the altarpiece, we would like to be able to slide forward part of the carvings to reveal these marks. In addition, there will be a newly carved oak replica of part of the altarpiece so that visitors can feel the intricate texture and understand the skilled workmanship.

The conservation of the altarpiece will also include further research into how it would have originally been displayed, who may have commissioned it, who created it, and why our founders, John and Joséphine Bowes, considered it an important addition to their collection in 1859.


Off to a great start!

We'd like to thank all the funders who have pledged towards our ambitious altarpiece campaign so far!Read more

For funders only

Acquisition of the altarpiece

John and Joséphine Bowes appointed the firm Monbro Fils Aîné to supply and repair furniture and objets d'art for their home. When they began to collect items for their purpose-built museum in Barnard Castle, the firm acted as an art dealer, inviting them to sales of fine and decorative artRead more

The Guild Mark of the Brussels Sculptors

This project intends to conserve the mallet mark, the guild mark of the skilled carvers of Brussels who created our altarpiece in c.1480-1485Read more

For funders only

Conservation begins

After a period of research and planning, the altarpiece is finally being dismantled ahead of its conservationRead more

Conservation 'Behind the Scenes' Reward

Yesterday our first conservation 'behind the scenes' reward took place, with two more planned in the New Year. Donors were given an exclusive insight into the necessary work on the oil on panel paintings by Master of the View of St Gudule followed by tea and cake with the conservators!Read more

For funders only

Visit to Rupert McBain's Workshop

An insight into the research and craftmanship of the furniture conservator Rupert McBain, when restoring our Flemish altarpieceRead more

For funders only

The Unveiling of the Flemish Altarpiece by the Bishop of Durham

On 22 April the conserved and re-displayed 15th-century Flemish altarpiece was unveiled by the Bishop of Durham at a special event at The Bowes MuseumRead more


12 August 2014 - 15:57

Lesley Taylor MBE
Durham and Cleveland Art Fund chair
Art Fund Chair for the North

As a former Trustee of the Bowes Museum and a committed Art Fund volunteer, I would like to say what a privilege it has been to be involved with this Art Happens crowdfunding project at the Bowes Museum. It has been a huge learning curve for us all, especially me and I am so pleased to have been able to support Alison Nicholson who has taken the lead on this project, with such passion and enthusiasm. It has been nerve-racking at times but as the momentum has increased so has the excitement. The Bowes Museum project will be the first to complete its allotted time of 60 days and so it will be fantastic if we reach the target on Friday. If successful we plan to have an unveiling at Easter by the Bishop of Durham to celebrate this enormous achievement.
We must make it happen!

The project is now 81% Funded by 157 Funders and 3 days to go.

Emma, Barnard Castle

2 August 2014 - 20:36

We were thrilled to hear back from the Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler yesterday saying he'd love to be involved in the unveiling of the conserved altarpiece next Easter, if we are successful at reaching our target. For those of you tempted by the reward for pledging £995, we hope the opportunity to meet and chat to the Bishop of Durham over a glass of bubbly in the splendid surroundings of the early picture gallery makes it even more special. The invitation at this reward level is for you and a guest to attend this exclusive event as close to Easter as possible, and have your name on a wooden plaque next to the redisplayed 15th century altarpiece for posterity. Please keep pledging to make the conservation, redisplay and this very special celebration of Renaissance art happen.

Emma, Barnard Castle

19 July 2014 - 21:05

It is a remarkable art work in the collection, and being able to reveal the six hidden paintings on its reverse to the public would be fantastic. Our Conservation Manager, Jon Old, has also identified areas of essential conservation work which will be part of the project. You can read about his plans on our Museum blog
The first contemporary oak panel, hand made by Rupert McBain, furniture conservator has been created and it's a beautiful piece of limited edition art inspired by the 15th century altarpiece - a very special reward for pledging £100.


19 July 2014 - 12:57

I've just had another look at this amazing altarpiece. It's huge - and beautiful. It would be just great to see it fully reassembled, especially as it seems to be by far the largest work by the Dutch Renaissance artist known as The Master of Saint Gudule in any collection, here in Britain or abroad.

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