The Mystic Lamb

This painting by Hubrecht and Jan van Eyck is the principal work of the Flemisch school in the 15th century.


"Hubrecht van Eyck, the most famous painter ever known, started this work of art; his brother Jan, who was second in the art, finished the task at the request of Joos Vijd. With this verse the donor consigns the work to your charge on May 6th 1432. Admire what they have done for you".
Free translation of the quatrain on the polyptych.

The Mystic Lamb

Sint-Baafskathedraal Gent © Lukasweb.be

Art in Flanders, foto's Hugo Maertens, Dominique Provost

This painting by Hubrecht and Jan van Eyck is the principal work of the Flemisch school in the 15th century.

The main theme is the glorification or the heavenly apotheosis of man's salvation and sanctification by the sacrifice of Christ. This subject is treated in a more visionary than narrative or dramatic manner.

It is painted on oak panels; the paint consists of mineral pigments in a cement of drying oil.

Historical background:

1432: the painting is unveiled.
1566: during a protestant revolt the painting is hidden in the tower.
1574: the local council wants to donate the painting to Queen Elisabeth of England.
1794: French soldiers take the central panels to Paris.
1815: the central panels are returned.
1816: the side panels, with the exception of Adam and Eve, are sold and finally end up in Prussia.
1822: the remaining panels are saved from a major fire.
1861: the panels of Adam and Eve are sold to the Belgian Royal Galleries of Art.
1914: the central panels are hidden.
1920: the painting is reconstructed.
1934: theft of panels "The Just Judges" and "St. John the Baptist".
1940: the painting is moved to Pau (France) from where it is taken bij German forces.
1946: the painting is returned to Ghent.
1986: the painting is oved to its present location, the Villa Chapel.

A five-year restoration campaign of the work by the Van Eyck brothers from the 15th century started in the Fall of 2012. The cost of the restoration is projected to be 1,4 million euro.

The restoration is being be carried out by the “Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage” (KIK – IRPA). The trustees of the Saint-Bavo cathedral have appointed Mrs. Anne van Grevenstein-Kruse, emeritus professor of Conservation and Restoration at the University of Amsterdam, to steer the project. An international advisory committee monitors its execution.

The restoration of the painting is necessary in order to prevent further hardening of the coats of varnish which may threaten the picture itself. At the same time the panels will be strengthened. Old touchups and paint-overs will be removed. Following that, new touchups will be applied where necessary and a new coat of varnish will be applied.

The treatment of the panels takes place in the Museum of Fine Arts in Gent using a phased approach. Visitors to the museum are able to follow the work in progress. The museum has set up a safe space to enable life viewing of the ongoing restoration activities.

During the entire restoration campaign, the Ghent Altarpiece itself will remain on view in the Saint-Bavo cathedral, except for the panel undergoing restoration.

This unique project will be extensively documented. The Province of East Flanders takes the lead to provide information to a wider public. Educational programs and special exhibitions relating to this restoration event are being held in the Provincial Cultural Centre in the Caermersklooster in Ghent.