Fresh claims in the case of the missing altarpiece panel

Summary

A former KBC board member has alleged that the bank was involved in the 1980s in an attempt to negotiate the return of the panel, on payment of a multi-million-franc ransom

The plot thickens… again

You know we’ve reached what in Dutch is called komkommertijd (in English: silly season) when the first story comes out about the missing panels from the brothers Van Eyck masterpiece “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb”.

The story concerns the “Righteous Judges” panel from the massive altarpiece. That panel and another were stolen from Ghent’s Sint-Baaf’s cathedral on the night of 10 to 11 April 1934. One panel was soon recovered. The “Righteous Judges” panel never was.

Last year historian Paul De Ridder claimed the panel was in the possession of a powerful Ghent family. That trail went cold.

Now comes the allegation, from former KBC board member Jan Bosselaers that the bank was involved in the 1980s in an attempt to negotiate the return of the panel, on payment of a ransom of 20 million Belgian francs, or €500,000. The attempt was approved by the bank’s management committee, but the negotiating partner, who claimed to be in possession of the panel, pulled out unexpectedly.

The theft itself, more than 80 years ago, can no longer be prosecuted. “It’s not our aim to point the finger of guilt,” said a spokesperson for the Ghent prosecutor’s office. “We want to find the panel, an important part of our art heritage, and return it to the altarpiece.”

The prosecutor hopes that assurance might convince whoever is in possession of the panel to give it up, now that repercussions have been ruled out.