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Helbig, Jean [Marie Charles]

Date born: 1895

Place born: Prinkipo, Turkey

Date died: 1984

Place died:

Curator Koninklijke Musea voor Kunst en Geschiedenis/Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire in Brussels (KMKG/MRAH). Jean Helbig was the son of Edmond Helbig (1854-1896) and Marguerite Van der Laat. He was a grandnephew of the painter and art historian Jules Helbig. After having attended high school in Antwerp, Jean Helbig obtained his BA in philology and literature at the University of Brussels. He served in the army during the First World War. He was a prize winning student of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts (Koninklijke Academie voor Schone Kunsten/Académie royale des Beaux-Arts) in Antwerp. In the 1920s he made drawings for windows in the Tournai studio of the glass painter Camille Wybo (1878-1937). He married Hélène Wante (1898-1991). In 1929 Helbig joined the Royal Museums of Art and History (KMKG/MRAH) in Brussels. He obtained his doctoral degree in art history and archeology from the University of Liège in 1938, with a dissertation on Flemish glass painting in the first half of the sixteenth century, L’École flamande de peinture sur verre pendant la première moitié du XVIe siècle. In that year, 1938, he became the head of the museum’s department of ceramics. With the outbreak of the Second World War immanent the treasures had to be moved in safety. All over Europe the protection of the artistic heritage became an urgent concern. In Belgium, the Koninklijke Commissie voor Monumenten en Landschappen issued directives for the safe-keeping and protection of art works, including stained glass windows. In 1939 Helbig made lists of the windows which either had to be taken out of their frames, or had to be reinforced. At that occasion the windows were photographed. Helbig’s continuing involvement led to the publication, in 1943, of the first volume of a complete index and documentation of monumental glass painting in Belgium, De Glasschilderkunst in België, Repertorium en Documenten. In addition to a complete list of existing and disappeared windows, it covers the history of monumental glass painting in Belgium from the twelfth up to the eighteenth century. In 1948 Helbig was appointed adjunct curator of the Royal Museums (KMKG/MRAH). He reorganized the Italian and Antwerp majolica gallery and he held an exhibition of Belgian ceramic art. He arranged the stained glass windows in a new display. In 1949 he held an exhibition of Islamic art, Art Musulman. The second volume of De Glasschilderkunst in België, coauthored with R. van Steenberghe de Dourmont, appeared in 1951. It continues and completes the index. A section of notices and commentaries highlights several aspects of the art of stained glass painting. This major two-volume work was an important contribution to the general inventory of art works in Belgium. In 1952 Helbig exhibited the museum’s collection of Delft faience. The first volume of the catalog, Faiences hollandaises, appeared in the same year, followed by the second in 1958. In 1952 Helbig became the head of the Dienst van het Repertorium van het Cultureel Bezit, housed in the museum. This service was established to register Belgium’s cultural property. Following the international 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of the Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, Helbig also directed this service. The preservation of stained glass windows in particular had become a national and international preoccupation since World War Two. The International Committee on the History of Art (CIHA) founded in 1952 a research project of medieval stained glass windows, the Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi. In 1956 it was placed under the patronage of the International Union of Academies (UAI). Helbig was involved in the Belgian series, Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi: Belgique. He rose to curator of the Royal Museums (KMKG/MRAH) in 1956. He was the contributor for Italian, Spanish, and Belgian ceramics to the 1958-1959 Art Encyclopedia, Winkler Prins van de Kunst (Elsevier). Helbig held teaching positions at professional art schools in Brussels, and at the Antwerp Kunsthistorisch Instituut. One year after his retirement as curator (1960), his first volume in the Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi: Belgique, appeared, Les vitraux médiévaux 1200-1500 conservés en Belqique (1961). It is a revision and expansion of his major 1943-1951 work. The second volume followed in 1968, Les vitraux de la première moitié du XVIe siècle conservés en Belqique. Province d’Anvers et Flandres. Helbig’s last contribution, vol. 3, coauthored with Yvette Vanden Bemden (b. 1946), appeared in 1974, Les vitraux de la première moitié du XVIe siècle conservés en Belqique. Brabant et Limbourg. Vanden Bemden, a stained glass specialist and art historian, continued the series (volumes 4 and 5). Helbig was a contributor to various periodicals in Belgium and abroad, including the Bulletin des Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, the Revue Belge d’Archéologie et d’Histoire de l’Art, and Faenza: Bolletino del Museo Internazionale delle Ceramiche in Faenza. He was a member of several institutions and committees, including the Académie Royale d’Archéologie de Belgique and the Comité international de Patronage du Musée céramique de Faenza (Italy). MD

Home Country: Belgium

Sources: Crick-Kuntziger, M. "Helbig (Dr Jean) De Glasschilderkunst in België ..." Revue belge de philologie et d’histoire 25 (1946): 251-253; Le Livre bleu. Recueil Biographique. Brussels: Maison Ferd. Larcier S.A., 1950, p. 267; Koller, F., De Maeyer, T. W. and Taylor, Stephen S. (eds) Who’s Who in Belgium, including the Belgian Congo. Brussels: G. H. B. Universal Editions, 1959, p. 315; Mariën-Dugardin, Anne-Marie. "Jean Helbig" Bulletin des Musées royaux d’Art et d’Histoire 32 (1960): 129-132; Manderyck, Madeleine. „Het kunsthistorisch onderzoek van de monumentale glasschilderkunst in Vlaanderen. Een status questionis“ Gentse Bijdragen 34 (2006): 175-193; Caviness, Madeline. "Introduction – The Corpus Vitrearum Project" www.international.icomos.org/publications/93stainintro2.pdf

Bibliography: [complete list until 1960:] Mariën-Dugardin, Anne-Marie. “Bibliographie Jean Helbig.” Bulletin des Musées royaux d’Art et d’Histoire 32 (1960): 130-132; Meesterwerken van de glasschilderkunst in de oude Nederlanden. Antwerp: De Sikkel, 1941; De oude glasramen van de Collegiale Sinte-Goedele te Brussel. Antwerp: De Sikkel, 1942; Oud-Antwerpsche school van glazeniers. Antwerp: Nederlandsche Boekhandel, 1943; De Glasschilderkunst in België. Repertorium en Documenten. 2 vols. Antwerp: De Sikkel, 1943-1951; La céramique bruxelloise du bon vieux temps. Brussels: éditions du Cercle d’art, 1946; „Repertorium van het cultureel bezit“ Archief- en bibliotheekwezen in België 24 (1953): 157-160; and De Borchgrave d’Altena, J. Faiences hollandaises XVIIe – XVIIIe – début XIXe siècle 2 vols. Brussels: Musées royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, 1952-1958; Les vitraux médiévaux conservés en Belgique, 1200-1500. Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi: Belgique, 1. Brussels: Weissenbruch, 1961; Les vitraux de la première moitié du XVIe siècle conservés en Belgique, Province d’Anvers et Flandres. Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi: Belgique, 2. Brussels: Van Buggenhout, 1968; and Vanden Bemden, Yvette. Les Vitraux de la première moitié du XVIe siècle conservés en Belgique. Brabant et Limbourg. Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi: Belgique, 3. Ledeberg/Gent: Erasmus, 1974.

Subject’s name: Jean Helbig