A Catholic altarpiece which has been called “the most influential painting ever” has been restored after four years of work.
Today, the altarpiece, also known as The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, was unveiled in St Bavo’s Cathedral, Ghent.
The altarpiece was begun by Hubert van Eyck, probably in 1426. It was completed by his brother Jan after Hubert’s death.
Its features 100 figures with various Biblical scenes, including the
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
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
“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.”