In 1949 the National Centre for Research of the Flemish Primitives was founded as a spin-off of the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage. Its foundation was in part initiated by the interdisciplinary study of Jan and Hubert van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece, after its return from the salt mines of Alt Aussee near Salzburg after the Second World War. A pioneering richly illustrated volume had come out in 1948 and the scientific research results were published in 1953.
The Ghent Altarpiece research project was the starting point of a systematic cataloguing of fifteenth-century paintings from the Southern Netherlands. This ambitious project is carried out under the direction of an inter-university committee and in cooperation with national and international experts. The results are chronicled in three series of scientific publications: the Corpus, the Repertory and the Contributions.
The Study Centre has gradually developed into a documentation centre including:
- a database of fifteenth-century paintings in the Southern Netherlands
- a specialist library, including some 6000 publications, and
- a photographic library containing over 35,000 photographs.
From 1993 to 2003 the Study Centre was named International Study Centre for Medieval Painting in the Scheldt and Meuse Basins. In 2003 it was renamed Centre for the Study of fifteenth-century Painting in the Southern Netherlands and the Principality of Liège and was managed under the auspices of the Académie royale des Sciences, des Lettres et des Beaux-Arts de Belgique and the Koninklijke Vlaamse Academie van België voor Wetenschappen en Kunsten.
In 2010 the Study Centre has been integrated as a specialized research unit of the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage. On that occasion, it received again its original name: Centre for the Study of the Flemish Primitives.