The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb Altarpiece was unveiled in St Bavo’s Cathedral, Ghent. The Catholic altarpiece which has been called “the most influential painting ever” has been restored after four years of work.
The altarpiece is thought to have been begun by Hubert van Eyck, (c. 1385–90 – 18 September 1426) and subsequently completed in 1432 by his brother Jan van Eyck (c. 1390 – 9 July 1441)
Its features 100 figures with various Biblical scenes, including the Annunciation. Its central panel shows a sacrificial lamb, representing Christ, on an altar bleeding into a grail.
The piece has had an eventful history having been stolen six times including once during the Napoleonic wars and the First and Second World Wars.
It was very nearly destroyed in the 16th century by iconoclasts and in 1934, one of its 12 panels was stolen and never found.
The restoration began after the Getty Foundation allocated a £1.3m grant for co-ordinators to remove the varnish and adjust the colours.
“The surprises begin with the frame itself,” says Bart Devolder, onsite co-ordinator of the project. “Not all of it survived, but the portions that did were cleaned to reveal silver leaf topped by transparent glazes that imitate stonework.”
On the frame of the piece is a famous inscription naming the painting’s donors and stating that the altar was begun by Hubert van Eyck.
“Our restoration confirmed that the inscription was original,” says Devolder. “It can now be said with certainty that the Ghent Altarpiece is by Hubert and Jan van Eyck, though it is still unclear whether any of Hubert’s paint is visible on the surface.”