The triptych called "The Master of Mills" nestled in the sacristy of the cathedral of Moulins (Allier) is recognized worldwide as a masterpiece of the early Renaissance. In early November 2022, he left the cathedral to join the workshops of the Centre de recherche et de restauration des musées de France (C2RMF) where he will be restored.
3.The triptych says "of the Master of Mills": its history, its restoration
The triptych known as «the Master of Mills» (today attributed to the Flemish painter Jean Hey), owned by the State and assigned to worship, is a masterpiece of Western painting at the crossroads between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, made around 1500 for the dukes of Bourbons Pierre II and Anne de Beaujeu.
Made of painted oak panels, it represents in closed position (which was the case most of the year) an Annunciation in grey; and in open position (for the great liturgical feasts) the Virgin crowned on the central panel and the patrons presented by their respective patron saints (Saint Peter and Saint Anne) on the side shutters.
Originally intended either for the chapel of the castle of the dukes (present-day Anne-de-Beaujeu museum), or for the choir of the collegiate church (became cathedral in 1822 and enlarged in the second half of the 19th century), the work was found in three parts and identified by the writer and inspector of historical monuments Prosper Mérimée in 1837.
After being assembled, the panels were hung in several places of the cathedral before reaching, at least since the 1880s, the sacristy of the bishops where it is still admired today.
Presented in several world exhibitions, at the French Primitives exhibition at the Louvre in 1904 or in London in 1932, the work has acquired a worldwide reputation and is part of the limited corpus of some twenty works by Jean Hey preserved in the world’s largest museums (Louvre Museum, National Gallery of London, Art Institute of Chicago, Royal Museums of Brussels, Met of New York).
During his absence, a facsimile will be presented in a chapel of the choir of the cathedral of Moulins, with panels presenting the news of the restoration and the possible discoveries made during this exceptional construction.
A fragile work due to the sensitivity of its support to hygrometric variations, triptych has been the subject of about ten partial restorations since the middle of the 20th century, the accumulation of which has become detrimental to its conservation and aesthetics. Moreover, the sacristy of the bishops of the cathedral of Moulins no longer offers satisfactory climatic conditions for its conservation.
In consultation with the affected clergy, the State (Ministry of Culture – DRAC Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes), owner of the cathedral and the works it contains, will therefore carry out two important parallel projects: the restoration of the chief-and the redevelopment of the sacristy which has been used as a showcase for the past century and a half.
An international scientific committee, including the clergy (bishop, rector of the cathedral), the contracting authority (DRAC), the Inspection of Historical Monuments and fifteen personalities (President of the Centre des monuments nationaux, Director of the Laboratoire de recherche sur les monuments historiques, Director of the Centre de recherche et de restauration des musées de France) and specialists in the subject (curators of the Louvre, academics, restorer of the royal museums of Belgium, etc.), was formed to guide the restoration.
In 2018-2019, an imaging campaign (UV, infrared, etc.) and a pre-restoration study were commissioned to provide a detailed health check of the painted panels and frames, as well as cleaning tests and restoration proposals.
The International Scientific Committee decided in favour of a fundamental restoration of the work.