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Regarding the film recently uploaded to Netflix, The Monuments Men, in which the work of art The Ghent Altarpiece takes a central role, let's talk about this magnificent artistic piece of humanity that continues to delight the connoisseurs and art lovers regardless of their religious or political history.

And it is that simply The Ghent Altarpiece, also known as "the worship of the mystical lamb" is recognized worldwide as a great work of art and one of the most influential paintings ever made.

Ghent's altarpiece is a masterpiece of Flamenco art, executed with extraordinary ability by the Hubert and Jan van Eyck brothers. After 1432, the altarpiece represents one of the highest points of the Northern Renaissance and remains one of the most enigmatic and deeply symbolic pieces of Christian art.

Ghent's altarpiece is not only a milestone in art history but also a testimony of the socio -political and cultural conditions of the fifteenth century. At that time, Ghent was one of the richest and most powerful cities in Europe, a trade and culture center. In this flourishing context, Jodocus Vijd and his wife Elisabeth Borluut, outstanding figures of the Ghent society, commissioned this work as a centerpiece for the chapel of the Church of San Juan (later known as San Bavón Cathedral). This commission reflects not only its devotion and status but also the importance of artistic patronage in the medieval transition period to the Renaissance.

The Van Eyck, Hubert and Jan brothers combined in this work an impressive technical domain with an innovative interpretation of space and light. They broke with the predominant Gothic style to present greater depth and realism, marking a before and then in the transition to the Renaissance. The oil technique, perfected by them, allowed a richness of details and a luminosity hitherto unknown, establishing new standards for pictorial representation.

The work is remarkable for its complex structure and use of space. The Ghent Altarpiece is a polyptic, consisting of multiple panels that, when they are closed, show the announcement together with figures of donors and saints. Upon opening, it reveals a rich and complex narrative focused on the figure of the mystical lamb, which is worshiped by various groups of people.

The iconography of the altarpiece is also complex and densely symbolic. The representation of the mystical lamb, which is simultaneously an image of Christ and a symbol of sacrifice and salvation, becomes the nucleus from which the other meanings radiate. The surrounding panels, with figures of saints, angels and martyrs, not only create a panorama of Christianity but also reflect a cosmological vision loaded with theological and spiritual symbolism.

The precision in the detail is amazing. The Van Eyck brothers used innovative oil paint techniques to achieve a richness of detail, texture and luminosity that had no precedents in their time. The representation of light and surfaces, from jewels to vegetation and water, demonstrates an amazing realism that practically invites the viewer to enter the scene.

The color in Ghent's altarpiece is another of its most prominent aspects. The van Eyck used vibrant colors and a varied palette to differentiate elements, transmit emotions and symbolize theological ideas. Deep green, red and blue not only structure the composition, but also fill it with meaning and emotion.

The characters represented in the altarpiece cover from biblical figures to saints and martyrs, each represented with a degree of individuality that was novel for the time. Attention to details in their expressions and clothing not only reflects a deep respect for each subject, but also provides a wide range of human emotions, from devotion to mystical ecstasy.

But beyond its technical and aesthetic aspects, Ghent's altarpiece is a deeply symbolic work. Each panel, each figure and almost every object has a deeper meaning, many of which are still the object of analysis and debate. From the representation of the mystical lamb, which is an image of Christ, to the complex iconographic patterns that cover the entire work, the altarpiece is a visual text rich in theological symbolism.

Despite his fame and his meticulous study, Ghent's altarpiece still keeps secrets. Some aspects of their symbolism, the precise identity of all the characters and the complete interpretation of their numerous layers of meaning remain enigmas. In addition, the history of the altarpiece is marked by episodes of negligence, damage and restorations, which have only added layers to its mystery and legend.

The life and work of the Van Eyck brothers are still mysterious, but their legacy is indisputable. Although little is known about Hubert, Jan is recognized for his detailed portraits and landscapes, which show a meticulous observation of nature and humanity. Its influence extended throughout Europe, marking the beginning of a new era in painting.

The restoration efforts of The Ghent Altarpiece have revealed not only the technique and original materials of the Van Eyck but also changes and alterations made throughout the centuries. These restorations have been crucial to better understand the original intention of artists and to preserve the work for future generations.

The history of the altarpiece is marked by dramatic episodes, including robberies and the dispersion of its panels, especially during conflicts such as World War II. Some panels, such as "the righteous judges", are still missing, adding an aura of mystery to the work.

The impact of Ghent's altarpiece extends beyond its artistic value, influencing generations of artists and leaving an indelible brand in art history. His presence in modern culture, from literature to cinema, demonstrates his persistent relevance and fascination.

The theological importance of Ghent's altarpiece cannot be underestimated. As a comprehensive vision of the Christian faith, it reflects the beliefs and hopes of its time, offering a window to the spirituality of the fifteenth century and its interpretations of the divine mysteries. As a whole, Ghent's altarpiece remains a monument to faith, art and culture of his time, a legacy that continues to inspire and challenge humanity.

Eight interesting aspects of Ghent's altarpiece

1. The Wandering Lamb

As you know, The Ghent Altarpiece is indissolubly linked to the Cathedral of San Bavón de Ghent. However, painting has had a story full of events. The painting ended in Paris after the French Revolution in 1789. The French troops brought the masterpiece of the cathedral and transported it in a horsepower car. It was the Duke of Wellington who returned the altarpiece to the Cathedral of San Bavón.

A year later, six panels were sold to the art dealer LJ Nieuwenhuys for 3,000 florines. The panels finally passed to the King of Prussia. After World War I, Germany was forced to return the panels to Belgium as compensation. During World War II, the polyptic was taken to a salt mine near the Austrian town of Altaussee, where Hitler hid several artistic treasures for the planned führermuseum. At the end of the war, Hilter ordered the salt mine to fly with all the works of art. A few heroic miners prevented the destruction of Ghent's altar. They avoided a great disaster in art history! Ghent's altarpiece finally returned home, the Cathedral of San Bavón.


2. The cowardly robbery


The restorations followed and the panels were stolen, found and copied. The theft of the panels of the altarpiece of the fair judges and of San Juan Bautista was only one more in a long series of tribulations! In the early hours of April 11, 1934, two witnesses saw two shadows in the dark putting flat objects in a car. The two shadows escaped with the panels of the altarpiece. There was only one note that said "taken from Germany by the Treaty of Versailles." A few weeks later, a letter came to the cathedral demanding a rescue of 1 million Belgian francs. The authorities did not want to pay the rescue and after exchanging more letters, the thief returned the table of San Juan Bautista. The mystery of the righteous judges still does not resolve. There are many interesting theories, but so far no one has found the crucial track!




3. Finalist Jan van Eyck


Joos Vijd the councilor of Ghent and his wife Lysbette Borluut commissioned Jan and Hubert van Eyck the painting of the altarpiece. They add a chapel to the Cathedral of San Bavón especially for this work. This chapel is called vijdkapel or vijd chapel. You probably do not know that it was Jan van Eyck who mainly painted The Ghent Altarpiece. Hubert Van Eyck began working in the altarpiece, but nobody knows exactly what his contribution was, since he died in the early stages of the creation of the work. His brother Jan finished the altarpiece in 1432.

4. A microscopic eye


Jan van Eyck was a real genius! He was the first artist who perfected the oil painting technique. Not only had great technical skills, but his eye for details was also phenomenal! Jan van Eyck's eye worked as a microscope and telescope. He was one of the first painters to represent a realistic moon with craters. Jan van Eyck worked as a painter of the Court of Felipe El Bueno, Duke of Burgundy, and made several diplomatic visits abroad. Thanks to his trips with Felipe El Bueno, he discovered new landscapes and plants, which he represented with naturalness and detail in The Ghent Altarpiece. Did you know that the rock rocks probably come from rocky massizer or dinant? I could never have painted them without their incredible photographic memory! Jan played Joos Vijd, the donor, not in an idealized but realistic way, with defects and everything. The details at work are phenomenal!

5. Van Eyck's comet


Jan van Eyck left his mark on art history as a "comet." We have few sources to inform us about your life or your career, but suddenly it appeared as one of the greatest painters of its time. Its style can be described as unique and revolutionary, unlike that of its predecessors or contemporaries. Numerous art lovers praise his best known work, The Ghent Altarpiece. According to the legend, Hugo Van Der Goes went crazy when he tried to paint the painting and finally took his life. It is said that Jan van Eyck inspired numerous artists such as Hans Memling, Dieric Bouts and Gerard David.

The fifteenth century can, without exaggeration, to be called Van Eyck's century. Jan van Eyck is even more esteemed than Da Vinci!

6. Mysteries and riddles


Ghent's altarpiece is a unique work of art with many unresolved enigmas and mysteries. It is said that in the panel with the urban landscape and the Sibila de Eritrea, human faces are seen in the sky, but nobody knows who they represent. It is said that the horizon of the central panel is a collage of real and fictitious buildings. During a restoration of the Ghent altar in 1951, the Lamb seemed to have four ears. The animal's ears were painted when modifications were made around 1550. The mysterious and supernatural lamb of four ears was exposed for a time during the MSK restoration process. Come and take a look and look for hidden faces as a true detective! Who knows, can you even discover another mystery?

Verborgen Gezichten
hidden faces


7. Van Eyck DNA traces


The Ghent Altarpiece is full of details and the restorers found some brush hairs during the recent restoration process. The hairs are glued in the paint and have different lengths. Painters sometimes leave fingerprints in their work while handling the paint with their fingers, which makes the fingerprints permanent. If you look closely, you may find a hair or a fingerprint. If you are not yet convinced that you should make a visit to Ghent, maybe the last reason makes you change your mind!

8. Jan van Eyck's biggest work


Jan van Eyck has left about twenty masterpieces spread throughout the world in museums and collections. The artist's life is still a mystery, but his works have resisted centuries! As far as we know, a work by Van Eyck is still privately owned. All other works are found in museums around the world. The portrait of Arnolfini and the portrait of a man, for example, are exhibited in the National Gallery of London. The Virgin of Foreign Minister Rolin is preserved in the Louvre Museum, Paris. But in the cathedral of San Bavón de Ghent you can admire his most important work, the worship of the mystical lamb.

In conclusion, The Ghent Altarpiece is not only a milestone in art history for his technique and aesthetics, but also because of his deep spiritual and symbolic content. The Van Eyck brothers, through this work, not only revolutionized the painting of their time, but also read a work that continues to inspire and challenge the spectators and scholars. Its combination of detailed realism with complex symbolism and deep theological references represents a fusion of artistic ability and spiritual devotion that continues to resonate throughout the centuries.

KUADROS ©, a famous paint on your wall.

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