Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Looking Closer at Van Eyck: Rediscovering the Ghent Altarpiece

by Gregg Chadwick

The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb known informally as The Ghent Altarpiece was painted by the Flemish artist Jan van Eyck with the assistance of his brother Hubert in the 15th Century.  The multi paneled artwork has been a school to artists since it was unveiled at the Saint Bavo Cathedral in Ghent in 1432. The series of paintings that form the altarpiece evoke a harmonious universe of beauty and glowing light. 

Jan van Eyck lived and worked in Bruges, Belgium from at least the unveiling of The Ghent Altarpiece in 1432 until his death in 1441. By then the city of Bruges had become one of the most important artistic centers in Europe. Painters traveled from all over the continent to study, collaborate and create in Bruge's fervent environment. Jan van Eyck himself was a transplant, having been born around 1390 in the village of Maaseik, just outside the city of Maastricht which is now part of The Netherlands. 

Amazingly, the breathtaking Ghent Altarpiece is the first agreed upon work in Jan van Eyck's canon. An inscription on the frame indicates that the altarpiece was begun by Jan's brother Hubert and completed on May 6, 1432 by Jan van Eyck. Twelve monumental paintings on wood form the altarpiece which depicts a theological compendium of the Christian faith. 

Recently, the Getty Museum helped fund a program with the Flemish government to clean and analyze the massive artwork with high tech tools. During the process, curators had each panel of the altarpiece digitally photographed. A website has been created that allows viewers to access these panels and to zoom in on details that would otherwise be difficult to perceive. The Getty Museum explains, "the website allows users to zoom in on individual sections of the altarpiece and take a virtual peek under the paint surface by means of infrared reflectography (IRR) and x-radiography, examining the altarpiece in ways never before possible."

I have posted a series of screen shots of details from The Ghent Altarpiece as a sort of visual essay on van Eyck's luminous paintings. I suggest that you visit the website Closer to Van Eyck: Rediscovering the Ghent Altarpiece and create your own journey through this amazing artwork.

More At:
Closer to Van Eyck: Rediscovering the Ghent Altarpiece
The Ghent Altarpiece As Never Seen Before

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