Ghent Altarpiece

Ghent Altarpiece

The Ghent Altarpiece or "Adoration of the Mystic Lamb" (Dutch: "Het Lam Gods" or "The Lamb of God"; completed 1432) is a very large and complex Early Netherlandish polyptych panel painting which was once in the "Joost Vijdt" chapel at Saint Bavo Cathedral, Ghent, Belgium, but was later moved for security reasons to the chapel of the cathedral. Commissioned by the wealthy merchant and financier Joost Vijdt, it was begun by Hubert van Eyck, who died in 1426 whilst work was underway, and completed by his younger brother Jan van Eyck. The altarpiece represented a "new conception of art", in which the idealization of the Classical tradition gave way to an exacting observation of nature. [Gombrich, E.H., "The Story of Art", pages 236-9. Phaidon, 1995. ISBN 0 7148 3355 x]

The altarpiece consists of a total of twenty-four compartmented scenes, which make up two views, open and closed, which are changed by moving the hinged outer wings. The upper register (row) of the opened view shows Christ the King (but see below) between the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist. The insides of the wings represent angels singing and making music, and on the outside Adam and Eve. The lower register of the central panel shows the adoration of the Lamb of God, with several groups in attendance and streaming in to worship, overseen by the dove representing the Holy Spirit. On week days the wings were closed, showing the Annunciation of Mary and donor portraits of Joost Vijdt and his wife Lysbette Borluut.

There used to be an inscription on the frame stating that Hubert van Eyck "maior quo nemo repertus" (greater than anyone) started the altarpiece, but that Jan van Eyck - calling himself "arte secundus" (second best in the art) - finished it in 1432. The original very ornate carved outer frame and surround, presumably harmonizing with the painted tracery, was destroyed during the Reformation; there has been speculation that it may have included clockwork mechanisms for moving the shutters and even playing music. [Website with scanned reconstructions of the frame from Lotte Brand Philip's book, "The Ghent Altarpiece] (Princeton,1971), which originated some of these ideas.]

The original lower left panel known as The Just Judges was stolen in 1934. The original panel has never been found and has been replaced by a copy made in 1945 by Jef Vanderveken. The stolen panel figures prominently in Albert Camus' novel La chute.

Upper front panels

Three central figures

The three central upper panels show the Virgin Mary to the left and John the Baptist to the right, but the identity of the central figure is unclear and has led to much debate. Several theories include that it is Christ in trumph and shown as a priest, [Lane, Barbara G,"The Altar and the Altarpiece, Sacramental Themes in Early Netherlandish Painting", Harper & Row, 1984, ISBN 0064301338 - pp 109 ff] God the Father, or the Holy Trinity amalgamated into a single person (the fact that the figure is wearing a triple tiara might lend some credence to this theory).

Lower side panels

Next to the central panel we see more groups of people. The two panels to the left show the "Just Judges" and the "Knights of Christ". On the right we see hermits and pilgrims, among them the giant Saint Christopher, patron saint of travellers.

The lower panel at the far left, The Just Judges, was stolen in 1934. Although several people have claimed to know its whereabouts, it has never been recovered and some now believe it to be destroyed. Others, though, think it will be found one day, and a number of people is still looking for it. It was replaced with a copy by Jef Vanderveken in 1945.

Other panels

Between the donors are Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist as statues on plinths, painted in grisaille. In the top register, the prophets Zaccariah and Micah, look down from lunettes on the fulfillment of their prophecies, which are contained in banderoles floating behind them. Between them are two sibyls, whose prophecies were also thought to have foretold the coming of Christ.

ee also

* Early Renaissance painting


*cite book
last = Schmidt
first = Peter
year = 2005
title = Het Lam Gods
publisher = Uitgeverij Davidsfonds
location = Leuven, Belgium
id = ISBN 90-77942-03-3

External links

* [ Detailed notes on the iconography- Marist College]
* [ The Metropolitan Museum]
* [ Webmuseum, Paris: Eyck, Jan van: The Ghent altarpiece]
* [ Jan and Hubert van Eyck: The Ghent Altarpiece - Cathedral of St. Bavon at Ghent]
* [ Image bank of the Flemish Reproductiefonds containing high resolution digital images of the Ghent Altarpiece made on request of Saint Bavo Cathedral]
* [ The theft of the Just Judges]
* [ Octagon-station: A project under supervision of artist Johan Tahon (B)]
* [ An alternative interpretation of the iconography of the Ghent Altarpiece]

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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • Jan van Eyck — or Johannes de Eyck (IPA2|jɑn vɑn ɛik) (before c. 1395 ndash; before July 9, 1441) was an Early Netherlandish painter active in Bruges and considered one of the best Northern European painters of the 15th century.There is a common misconception,… …   Wikipedia

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