Restoration of Ghent Altarpiece to take longer than expected
Due to a number of paint layers added to the Van Eyck masterpiece “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” over the centuries, restoration work will probably continue to 2020
In search of the original
Restorers, who have been working on the altarpiece’s 12 panels since 2012, have discovered a number of overpaintings – places where the original work was painted over by subsequent generations – that they want to remove to expose the Van Eycks’ original work underneath. That requires both more time and more funding. The result will be a work more closely resembling the 15th-century original, a version that may not have been seen in centuries.
The altarpiece, housed in Ghent’s Sint-Baafs Cathedral, has four central panels and eight hinged panels, all of which are painted on both sides. When the hinged panels are open, the view is of God the Father, flanked by the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist, angels singing and playing music, and Adam and Eve. Below is the central panel, which shows the Lamb of God being worshipped by prophets, apostles, clerics, martyrs, judges and knights.
When closed, the altarpiece presents a view of the Annunciation with portraits of prophets and sibyls, saints and the work’s donors, a wealthy merchant couple.
The eight exterior panels will be ready by June of next year, said the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage in Brussels, which is overseeing the restoration. It had been hoped that this part of the work might be complete by last year 2014, but overpainting has delayed progress – as well as costing an extra €480,000.
“At the moment, we’re looking into how much overpainting is involved on the inner panels,” the institute’s spokesperson said. “If that’s extensive, we have to see how much can be removed.”
Most of the altarpiece is still on view in Sint-Baafs; only panels currently being restored have been removed to Ghent’s Fine Arts Museum, where the restoration work in progress is on view to the public.
Photo: Restorers discuss the ongoing works to the panels of the Ghent Altarpiece
Van Eyck brothers create The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, also known as the Ghent Altarpiece, one of the masterpieces of the period
visitors attended first-ever exhibition about Flemish primitives in Bruges in 1902
million euro, cost of Ghent altarpiece restoration, due to be completed in 2017