Destination: Ghent
Top Ten
1 The Ghent Altarpiece
2 Gravensteen
3 Kerkhof Campo Santo
4 Kuip van Gent
5 Patershol
6 Prinsenhof
7 St Baafskathedraal
8 St Elisabethbegijnhof
9 Stedelijk Museum voor Aktuele Kunst (S.M.A.K.)
10 Vrijdagmarkt
1 The Ghent Altarpiece

This masterpiece by the two Van Eycks, Hubert and Jan, is better known as The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, a name that refers to the subject of the central panel.

In 1420 the churchwarden and alderman of Ghent, Joos Vijd, together with his wife Elisabeth Borluut, gave Hubert van Eyck the commission to paint an altarpiece or reredos (a decorated panel behind an altar). When the artist died in 1426 his brother Jan took over the brush and in 1432 he completed an absolute pinnacle in art history. The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb consists of 20 panels, a symphony in colour, the ultimate synthesis of medieval painting and a foretaste of what was going to develop subsequently in the art of northwestern Europe. First the van Eycks regarded colour composition as extremely important, and second we have in front of us the first example of a painting in oils. The van Eycks perfected the type of paint which is a mixture of linseed oil, egg yolk and turpentine. The painting technique is responsible for the warm glow from the surface of the canvas. The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb was painted on smooth oak panels, the foundation consists of a layer of white paint that reflects and scatters the light. We see flowers and trees from the four winds, exotic items, villages and Gothic churches. The impeccable skill displayed enables the viewer to identify all the different types of wood and precious metals in the painting. The detail is so fine that you can make out every hair in the hairstyles. Examination under the microscope has revealed that even blood vessels are visible, the incidence of light is conveyed logically, and in the drops of water from the fountain you can see the reflection of the surroundings! Not for nothing is this masterpiece called the conquest of realism. We also see the misty landscape that we later encounter in Leonardo da Vinci's work, an early form of pointillism, chiaroscuro and feeling for perspective, which was very advanced for the time.

The canvas was hidden from the iconoclasts. It was taken to Paris in 1794 by French revolutionaries. In the 19th century a number of panels ended up in Berlin and the Nazis hid them in a slate mine in Austria together with the rest of their looted works of art. The travels of The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb are still not at an end. In 1934 two panels were stolen. only one was recovered.

On his deathbed a certain Arsène Goedertier wanted to divulge the whereabouts of the missing panel but after the words 'key' and 'little cupboard' he breathed his last. The panel is still being sought. Some people think it is concealed in the cathedral itself. If you should come across it, remember that in 1943 ten million Belgian francs was offered for it.

The triptych originally stood in the Vijd Chapel but to protect it from the damaging breath of thousands of visitors and the itchy fingers of potential thieves it has been moved to another location in St Baafskathedraal. It is contained in a glass case with a concrete cage round it that would even protect the canvas should an aircraft crash on to the cathedral.

Address: St Baafskathedraal; St Baafsplein
Open: Apr-Oct: daily. 9:30-12 and 2-6; Nov-Mar: daily. 10:30-12 and 2:30-4. Closed in the morning on Sundays and feast days
Restaurant: Restaurants on Braunplein and St Baafsplein (Moderately priced)
Bus: Bus 16, 17, 18, 19, 38; tram 21, 22, 40, 41, 42
Accessible: Very Good
Admission: Expensive

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