The mystical lamb overcomes the "meme" to show the glare of Van Eyck | Culture


Scientific conquests in the art world do not usually trigger storms in social networks. But everything is possible if it's Jan van Eyck (Maaseik, about 1390-1400 - Bruges, 1441), master of whose prodigious work only a score of paintings is preserved. The restoration of his most famous polyptych, The worship of the mystical lamb, became a trend on Twitter weeks before the presentation this Wednesday to the international press at the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent (MSK) of Jan van Eyck An optical revolution, shows in which they are made known to the world that intervention and the other eight of the 20 tables that make up the set. The reason? By eliminating repainting and filth, it was discovered that under the old sheep aspect, human blue eyes, too human, were hiding, as well as a more bulky muzzle and very pointed ears.

The restoration work, which has completed its second phase with a cost of 2.5 million euros (the entire project will end in 2024, when they collect the rest of the money), went unnoticed ... until Twitter users pointed out with the accusing finger of the mob and woke up the expert on the subject that everyone had inside (in Spain, the memory of case Ecce Homo particularly accentuated the reaction).

That caused the presentation to look like one of those shows in which, from one moment to another, a movie star appears. On a sunny but freezing day, the access to the modernist Museum of Fine Arts, located in the center of Ghent, was full of journalists from the early hours of the morning who wanted to see with their own eyes the new aspect of the restored tables. And that in the sample there are eight portions of the famous polyptych, although not the one corresponding to the lamb. To see it, you have to go to the cathedral of San Bavón, owner of the work and where it is usually exposed.

Inside, the curators of the exhibition managed how they could so unusual expectation. Actually, according to experts, this should not be the restoration of the controversy, if not a much earlier one. Just a century after its conclusion, the altarpiece underwent an intervention around 1550 in which no less than 70% of the original table was repainted. That was when the face of the lamb changed. Therefore, Livia Depuydt-Elbaum, responsible for the restoration workshop, says without blinking that what we see now is exactly what Van Eyck painted. "This is his lamb, these are his landscapes and this is his work." He does not know the causes for which the polyptych was repainted so soon, but ensures that the work has been much and very rigorous. And what would Van Eyck have said about the controversy? "He would have laughed," replies Jan Dumolyn, one of the four curators of the show.

The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb ', by Hubert and Jan van Eyck, in the Cathedral of San Bavón.


The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb ', by Hubert and Jan van Eyck, in the Cathedral of San Bavón.

Maximiliaan Martens, curator too, remember that, beyond his recent status as tweet, Jan van Eyck is listed in art history manuals as the great teacher of the first Flemish school developed in Flanders at a time economic and cultural heyday. And while he did not invent oil, as it was believed for many years, he raised its use perfectly. Training miniaturist, the scientific detail of its naturalistic compositions shows dazzling aspects of water, fire or precious stones. Innovative in the portrait for his characters who look directly at the viewer, his masterpiece is the polyptych, in which his older brother Hubert van Eyck also intervened.

The exhibition will remain open from next Saturday until April 30. The eight restored tables vertebra the sample. The rest of the polyptych waits in a temple chapel, which shows the whole protected by a glazed urn similar to the one in the mural Guernica when he arrived at the Casón del Buen Retiro. The distance between the work and the spectator, of course, does not allow to appreciate the details of the lamb revealed in the restoration.

Restoration of 'The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb', by Hubert and Jan van Eyck.


Restoration of 'The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb', by Hubert and Jan van Eyck.

A pioneer

The exhibition has about 100 pieces (paintings, sculptures, drawings and miniatures). Jan van Eyck has only survived a score of oils in which his signature consists, a way to authenticate the work, in which he was also a pioneer. The rest, whose number is unknown, have disappeared, although most of his legacy has transcended thanks to his followers. Martens remembers that the artist got fame and power very soon. At the age of 30, he began painting on wood and was hired at the court of Philip the Good as a chamber painter with a fixed annual salary. Thanks to that, he traveled with diplomatic missions in Italy, Spain and Portugal, which allowed him to know the pictorial revolution that was taking place during the first Renaissance with artists like Fra Angelico, Pisanello, Masaccio or Benozzo Gozzoli, of which important works are included here.

The exhibition design marks a light tour through 13 rooms. The miniatures painted in medieval manuscripts alternate with the tables of Van Eyck, his disciples and his contemporaries. Signed and dated, you can see works that rarely leave the museums that house them as both Madonna at the fountain hanging next to each other (that of the Antwerp Museum of Fine Arts and that of the Frick Collection in New York). Spain brings the Annunciation Diptych (Thyssen) and two polychrome wood sculptures (Prado Museum). The gallery of portraits, all of small format, allows you to see faces of stunning realism.

But if the portraits are authentic jewels, it is in the landscapes where the optical revolution that gives the exhibition its title with perspective and its prodigious way of portraying flora and fauna is best appreciated. The exotic vegetation that he could know in his travels is in the cypresses, pines, olive trees, pomegranates, fig trees, citrus and dates that he recreates with aerial views populated by cormorants, spatulas, ducks, swans, cranes and seagulls.

The work that Hitler and Napoleon wanted

The Ghent altarpiece holds the painful record of being the most attacked work in history. Affected by fire or flooding on multiple occasions, its different parts have been stolen dozens of times. Among the most famous criminals are nothing less than Napoleon and Hitler himself, who attributed esoteric powers to the work. Thanks to rocambolesque police operations, only one original table is missing, the one dedicated to the just judges, although the copy is integrated into the set: The lamb Mystical, or your full name, The Adoration of the Mystic Lambor, was created at a time when most believers were illiterate and in which the masses were celebrated in Latin. Therefore, the visual representation of the biblical stories in an altarpiece was an essential aid to involve the parishioners in the religious experience. It was commissioned by the city councilor of Ghent, Joos Vijd to Hubert van Eyck, older brother of Jan. But Hubert died in 1426 and it was Jan who took over the commission

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