Past - Present - Stefaan van Biesen



Past Present









[The Veronica Suite] contemporary nomad stories based on the painting of Saint Veronica,

[Flémalle panels circa 1420-1425] by Robert Campin [Flemalle's master, 1378-1445].


With all the suffering that continues to dominate the contemporary world, it is a justification to bring this age-old theme back to the spotlight in a contemporary way. For the last 10 years I took pictures of people I met all over Europe. Refugees, migrants, colleagues and friends. We all have a migration background. Everyone bears their own shared suffering. The entire cycle is based on the painting of Saint Veronica, [Flémalle panels circa 1420-1425] by Robert Campin [Flemalle's master, 1378-1445].

When we consider the theme of the painting [apart from Christian iconography], it is essentially a person, Veronica, who, in a universal gesture of compassion, takes care for a politically condemned dissident. She wipes his face with a sweat cloth. His bloodied face makes a lasting print on the woven cloth. She declares her solidarity with his suffering. And it is also a wordless sign to him: "you are not alone, despite everything. Know that I know and that I think of you! "


By her action and intention, she stands out from the group, on the side of the road where the executed is on his way to the execution of his death sentence. As a woman she symbolically places herself as the mother of all mothers in the world. Her mother's heart is stronger than the ratio of the fate of the person who passes her with all his pain and despair. In this way she also places herself as the mother of all who suffer. As an archetypeal image of carers worldwide.









MOZAÏEK [Mijn naam is Vijd] CC Ter Vesten Beveren Belgium.



In response to the Jan Van Eyck year in 2020 and at the invitation of CC Ter Vesten and Erfgoed Beveren, Stefaan van Biesen started in the spring of 2019 an artistic research into the figure of Joos Vijd who ordered the Ghent Altarpiece [1432] from Jan Van Eyck.


Apart from the historical facts and existing documents, we can only guess at the intentions and ambitions of Joos Vijd. This sometimes leads to different views and interpretations. Nevertheless, it seems somewhat plausible that Joos Vijd had a great preference for the circles from which the painters Van Eyck have extracted their knowledge and can therefore not be seen merely as the principal and financier of the Ghent Altarpiece. The fact that Philip De Goede, given the size and duration of this work, agreed to 'lend' Jan Van Eyck (who was also responsible for the glamor of the Court) to a subject like Vijd, is special and indicates a great affection towards Joos Vijd.


On Facebook [Dutch language] : Vijd Awa




About MOSAIC [My name is Vijd]:


The project / research of Stefaan van Biesen received the working title: MOSAIC [My name is Vijd]. This exhibition starts on July 1, 2020 and runs until October 11, 2020. Location: castle Cortewalle (the former residence of Joos Vijd). Appointment: online on the CC Ter Vesten website. Due to the Corona measures, the official opening will take place at a later, yet to be determined date.


This multidisciplinary project consists of a section of 80 drawings/notes, video, photo installations, soundscapes, texts / stories and publications: (an overview of the drawings).


A search for Joos Vijd: symbolism and themes in the Ghent Altarpiece are placed in a contemporary context, starting from the person of Vijd, (a descendant of a Flemish patrician family depicted on the Ghent Altarpiece, together with his wife Isabella Borluut. on the outside hatch). These elements are tested against our contemporary living environment. Which connections can be made and which are still relevant and are therefore perceived as timeless? Is the time and environment in which Vijd lived still topical and tangible in our human, social and intercultural relationships?



Stefaan van Biesen is internationally known as a contemporary visual artist. In his work, the emphasis is not only on the finished image, but also on the quest that leads to this artistic result. Each image is a step in a larger study. Recurring elements in this question are religion, society and nature. In Jan Van Eyck's oeuvre he finds a related philosophical undertone that is surprisingly topical.

Stefaan van Biesen analyzes the work of the Burgundian painter on the basis of his own drawings. In doing so, he starts from contemporary photos in which figures, poses and subjects are reminiscent of the masterpiece. These images, often the posture of hands, function as an archetype when he places them in their contemporary context. He draws these elements with such an eye for detail that the result is reminiscent of medieval miniatures.

Stefaan van Biesen considers the act of drawing as a meditative experience. He concentrates on each line, marvels at the interplay and is touched when the finished image emerges from the loose lines and surfaces.

He provides each drawing with notes: ideas that arise during drawing and references to the research that leads to this result. The relationship between historical symbolism and contemporary action results in an almost mystical experience. Drawing is not only an artistic instrument, but also a skill that leads to progressive insight and has an indisputable impact on work and research. The draftsman perceives the world with greater accuracy and from multiple perspectives. The artist understands through the act of registering.







Part 2. > Photo Installation : the wide landschape > MOZAÏEK [Mijn naam is Vijd]

CC Ter Vesten Beveren Belgium 01.07 > 11.10.2020. A multi disciplinairy project.



This installation consists of two ensembles of 16 photos, taken during walks in the municipality of Beveren [2016-2020]. A selection made from more than 150 photos that can also be seen digitally elsewhere in the exhibition.


These two suitcase installations link with the pictorial atmosphere that the landscapes in the Ghent Altarpiece exude. Through a popular medium, which has become an inseparable part of our contemporary digital culture, the natural world of the iconic painting is tested against our own. Or how, in a medieval context, it contains the profane, traces of the metaphysical.

The photos show themselves as filtered fragments from everyday life, a still and astonished look at a world in motion, subdued pages from a visual diary. Silent landscapes that become the subject of a melancholic world view: a feeling of endearment about what one sees, the beauty of a quiet moment.


The everyday that shows itself as a lived landscape of emotions and meaning, a changing metamorphosis that takes place, from one to the other. The viewer becomes the chronicler of his own mind that is mirrored in what one perceives. Camera and photographer become one in a timeless course. It is life that gives art life. It is the art that comes home to life.






( V ) A D E R Wall installation/integration with drawings at Cortewalle Castle Beveren Belgium 2021.


Joos Vijd who lived at Cortewalle ordered the Ghent Altarpiece [1432] from Jan Van Eyck. This work is a memorial to him and his wife Isabella Borluut.


Wall installation (V)ADER [Father/Vein] 2021. A Spin off the exhibition Mozaïek [Mijn naam is Vijd]. CC Ter Vesten Beveren Belgium 01.07 > 11.10.2020. A multi disciplinairy project.






[5 Stories] publication of stories where the Ghent Altarpiece finds a place in everyday life.







[Son & Heir] a reconstruction of the remains of a day in 1952,

for the Flow Lines project of Deirdre McLeod, University of Edinburgh Scotland Uk june 2020.


On the photo left, taken in 1952, my father is standing in a pool of water. It is a mysterious act on a Sunday afternoon in 1952, a year before I was born. I have often wondered what was the reason for this action and I got no answers. I found it interesting to follow in my father's footsteps and reconstruct this moment as a gesture of connection, and in a certain bloodline tradition.


Or as Gustav Mahler [1880-1911] once said: "Tradition is tending the flame, not worshiping the ashes..".


[Flow Lines] In human geography, flow lines record the movement of people, such as commuters or migrants, between one place and another. In physical geography, flow lines on oceanographic maps describe how ocean waters circulate around the world.


On your own, and maintaining a self-isolating distance of at least two metres from anyone nearby, make your way to a sea, or ocean, which is near you. If you live far from the sea, make your way to a nearby stream or river. A canal is also fine, as long as it eventually joins the sea.


Take off your shoes and roll up your trousers. Stand in the sea, river or canal. Bid goodbye to the water which laps around your ankles. Wish it farewell as it flows to other countries’ shores to meet the people who may paddle there. Put your hand in the water and shake hands with all of those who are now linked to you by water, but whom you cannot visit, at the moment, by land or air.


Deirdre McLeod: the project is called 'Flow Lines' and is an artistic response, of sorts, to current circumstances. It aims to explore the more solitary conditions that we find ourselves in, and ways in which we might connect. Since the emergence of the Coronavirus, and particularly since lockdown, we have moved differently within public space. Time outside has become precious and, often, solitary and we are still unable to visit, and be physically close to, those with whom we do not live.


At the same time, the pandemic has highlighted the importance of urban public space to individuals and communities. I’m creating a set of six mini-performance pieces for individuals to do on their own. Each piece is based on gestures that I’ve observed people making or doing over the past few months here in Edinburgh.


The performance involves standing (safely) in flowing water. I'm keen to involve artists across the UK and internationally in this project.


You can find more information about the project at:







2019 :




[The Offering of the Heart]


The Book of the Love Heart in Love is an allegorical novel by Duke René d'Anjou [1409-1480]




Miniature from the Book of the loving Heart of love, depicting Love giving Desire the heart of the sick king. Attributed to Barthélemy d'Eyck.



















[En écoutant du Schumann / La Musique russe].



Art project 'Melancholia', S & H De Buck & university of Ghent Belgium 2000. Based on a dispute between the two famous Belgium Fin de Siècle painters: Fernand Khnopff and James Ensor. Ensor accused Khnopff of plagiarism.


A performance based on the Belgian painters, James Ensor (1860-1949) and Fernand Khnopff (1858-1921), who had known each other as fellow students at the Brussels Academy, had a violent polemic in response to the painting 'Listening to music by Schumann', which Fernand Khnoppf showed in that same year when it was finished. The canvas, purchased on 5 October 1945 at the Henri La Fontaine auction in the Georges Giroux gallery in Brussels by the Royal Museums of Fine Arts in Brussels, was indeed apparently influenced by the work of 'La Musique russe/Russian Music' from 1881 by James Ensor.



En écoutant du Schumann, Fernand Khnopff 1883 > La Musique russe, James Ensor 1881.













[Studiolo: Skin, must learn how to breathe]. Installation/a reconstruction.



Public library Zwijndrecht Belgium 2005.


The world of the recluse. Stefaan van Biesen's philosophical path.


Many will have looked at the painting “San Girolamo nello studio” by Antonello da Messina in the London National Gallery with certain amazement and questioning eyes. San Girolamo is better known as Hieronymus. The Saint is mostly represented as a hermit who lives in poor circumstances. Let’s think about the famous painting of Jeroen Bosch in the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent, Belgium. We see the recluse who has thrown himself in front of the crucifix, only dressed in his undergarment. Behind him, a serene and most beautiful landscape unfolds, to which the hermit pays no attention.




San Girolamo nello Studio [1474–1475] by Antonello da Messina. ©National Gallery London UK.



The painting is recorded in a Venetian collection in 1529 as by Antonello, Van Eyck or Memling. Antonello da Messina may have painted it when in Venice in the 1470s. His style was much influenced by Netherlandish painting seen in the detailed treatment of objects such as the hanging towel and the view through the window. The 4th-century Saint Jerome was one of the four Fathers of the Church, and is often represented in the Renaissance. He was famous for the Vulgate (the translation of the Bible into Latin) and is often depicted in his study. A painting of Saint Jerome, thought to be by Jan van Eyck, is known to have been in Naples in 1456 and Antonello may have seen it. He certainly worked in Naples as well as his native Sicily.



Public library Zwijndrecht Belgium 2005.


Antonella da Messina pictures the recluse in his study, an open construction in which the church father withdraws. His wooden construction is part of a bigger picture, an imaginary, gothic room which could refer to a church as well as to a palazzo. Slender pillars and vistas with a view on the landscape, only meant for the viewer, not for the character who has withdrawn in that space. He has retired voluntarily in a firmly structured studio with only walls. The studio is somewhat elevated above the world, it is like a stage. The learned church father is reading a book and is surrounded by several objects. He observes the world through educational material, not through direct observation. He observes the world in which he has retired. Let’s not forget that the man is a monk and a scholar who is responsible for the Latin standard version of the bible, the Vulgate. His cardinalate was assigned posthumously, therefore the red mantle and cardinal’s hat, attributes with which he is mostly represented.


Text by Daan Rau [published in Openbaar Kunstbezit 2007].



Skin was show at 1. 'Skin, must learn how to Breathe, CC De Werft Geel [2004] > 2. Public Library Zwijdrecht Belgium [2005] > 3. ' Rewind' [curated by Filip Van de Velde, SMAK Ghent], Vierkante Zaal KASK Sint-Niklaas Belgium [2008].







The philosophical path

Many artists, scientists and philosophers recognize themselves and their own situation in this state of retiring disposition from the world. Stefaan van Biesen shares this feeling. He wants to complete an installation from this fascinating painting. In his preparatory file he writes the following about the scholar: “The trip he makes is a mental voyage, as if he can transfer himself through thoughts to other, still unknown places. The studio is a projection of his thinking.”









1994 - 2019:




[Obstacle/Passage/Obstacle]. Installation/a reconstruction.




The photo above of the installtion [during art project 'Speelhoven' Aarschot Belgium 1994/1997] was published in the book 'Buiten & Binnen (outside & inside), Visions on and by the actual landscape [1998]' by author/art historian Johan Pas. It was taken in a place that is very reminiscent of the landscape that can be seen on the original painting 'the prodigal son' by Hieronymous Bosch [1450-1516] made in 1516. That was also the main reason for placing the work on this spot.



[The Prodigal Son] 1516 by Hieronymous Bosch. Collection of the Museum Boijmans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam the Netherlands.





Sculpture/permanent installation public space for a birth park of the community of Zwijndrecht in Belgium September 2018. Installation / Reconstruction. The gate symbolizes renewal, change, a mental rebirth or the start of a new beginning during a life phase. The wanderer, the nomad, the refugee tries to come 'home'.


Stefaan van Biesen works in his oeuvre with the concepts present/past, body/mind, culture/nature. This results in images, drawings, videos, performances in which a special view on mankind, nature and social events always is given.




[Obstacle/Passage/Obstacle]. Integration Geboortepark Zwijndrecht Belgium September 2018.



[Obstacle/Passage/Obstacle]: 'Speelhoven' Aarschot Belgium 1996 > 'Artificial Landscape' [Betoverd Bos] Schuurlo Sint-Maria Aalter, Belgium. [curator: Angelique Campens] > 'How Long Is Now?' Biscainhos museum Braga Portugal 2010 > As a permanent work in the public space: Geboortepark [Birth Park] at Zwijndrecht Belgium 2018.








2002 :




[World kitchen] Breugel & today' Herman Teirlinckhuis Beersel Belgium 2002.



Art Project [Breugel en Vandaag]. Several artist were aksed to make a tribute to Breugel [1525-1569] at the Herman Teirlinckhuis in Beersel Belgium [2002]. The house is situated in the region where Breugel once lived and worked.




Fragments form the paintings 'spreuken' and 'Boerenbruiloft' made by Breugel.



[World kitchen] Breugel & today' rooftop of the Herman Teirlinckhuis Beersel 2002. 60 rice pies made in plaster. The work is based on a painting with Flemish spells from Breugel and specifically on the saying: 'There, the roofs are covered with flans' (people who live in wealth and abundance). Luxury in an unequally divided world. A permanent world problem.








1998 :




[Wild Man Variations] video performance. Corpus CC Ter Vesten Beveren Belgium 1998.



[Wildman Variations] is a video of a performance based on pagan 'wildman' paintings and wooden ornaments in the old Christian house chapel in Castle Cortewalle Beveren Belgium. Art project 'Corpus' CC Ter Vesten [1998].


The wildman is a mythical figure that appears in the artwork and literature of medieval Europe, comparable to the satyr or faun type in classical mythology and to Silvanus, the Roman god of the woodlands.


Nature versus Culture. Or a desire to be 'nature', to be one with nature? The polarity between culture and nature, but also the inability to connect both. The definition of the term 'nature' is determined by culture. The term 'nature' is an interpretation, a filtered look at our environment. Maybe it is therefore a difficult concept to describe. We often forget that we ourselves are 'nature'. We often place ourselves outside of 'nature' and look at it as an observer who is detached, who has lost or denied the bond with what he is in essence.





Photo: one of the several wildman paintings in the chapel of Cortewalle Castle in Beveren. A remarkable combination of Christian and pagan representations.













[Friedrich Walks] walks in Europe [since 1999]. Spaziergangwissenschaft.

Photographs taken during several walks in Europe as an hommage to Caspar David Friedrich.



Friedrich [1774-1840] was a 19th-century German Romantic landscape painter, generally considered the most important German artist of his generation. He is best known for his mid-period allegorical landscapes which typically feature contemplative figures silhouetted against night skies, morning mists, barren trees or Gothic or megalithic ruins. His primary interest as an artist was the contemplation of nature, and his often symbolic and anti-classical work seeks to convey a subjective, emotional response to the natural world. Friedrich's paintings characteristically set a human presence in diminished perspective amid expansive landscapes, reducing the figures to a scale that, according to the art historian Christopher John Murray, directs "the viewer's gaze towards their metaphysical dimension".







Photo: Annemie Mestdagh at Wilhelmshöhe Apollo Temple Kassel Germany 2007.












[My load is undefined] a two day walk 1992.





[My load is undefined] My first walk as the start of an artistic practice: registration of a two days walk. Melsele Belgium 1992. Attribute Stefaan van Biesen. An homage to Breugel and Bosch. Camera and video by Toon Saerens. Time 04:46.



Fragments of the video.






©stefaan van biesen-annemie mestdagh 16.01.2023