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Between Heaven and Earth

Who was Bouts?

The painitngs by Bouts dissolve the boundaries between heaven and earth

Dieric Bouts (c. 1410–1475) can be named in the same breath as Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden as one of the most important Flemish Primitives. Born in what is now the Netherlands, he settled in Leuven, married here in 1448 and remained until his death. He painted two of his iconic masterpieces – 'The Last Supper' and 'The Martyrdom of St Erasmus' – in Leuven, where they can still be seen in their historical setting. Over the centuries, other masterpieces by Bouts have found their way into major museums all over the world. Although his fame was not so widespread throughout that period, the art-historical importance of 'The Last Supper' has since grown, until the work has become an absolute must-see for international art-lovers.

Het Laatste Avondmaal van Dieric Bouts © Rudi Van Beek
Het Laatste Avondmaal van Dieric Bouts © Rudi Van Beek

The religious scenes that Bouts presents in a realistic earthly setting dissolve the boundaries between heaven and earth. This might well make him the outstanding example of an artist working within the 15th-century tradition to seek a new interpretation of what it is to be human. Bouts explores the possibilities of realism and of representing the real world, so that the viewer is better able to empathize with the message the image is intended to convey.

Bouts was the official city painter during a period of immense urban renewal. It is precisely this that makes him essential to the development of Renaissance art in the humanist centre that Leuven was at the time.