• gerard van weyenbergh

Masterpiece of Flemish art, the "Mystic Lamb" has been restored in Ghent.

"The landscape behind the mystical Lamb has cleared up! Merry and full of sun", exclaimed Tuesday the manager of the restoration, Hélène Dubois, during the presentation to the press of the lower register of the altarpiece painted by the Van Eyck brothers . The restoration of the centerpiece of The Mystic Lamb , a jewel of Flemish art, has been completed. She cleared the work of varnishes and overpaintings accumulated over the centuries.

Result of this makeover: a more transparent sky, more colors, dozens of details revealed in broad daylight. The central table in this register, the Lamb of God adored by the faithful, gave its name to the 15th century altarpiece. "We have found virtuosity and finesse" of the work, says the expert from the Royal Belgian Institute of Artistic Heritage.

A vast restoration project in several stages

The renovation, carried out at the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent for three years and visible behind a window by visitors, follows that of the exterior panels carried out between 2012 and the end of 2016 and precedes that of the upper register, which must start in 2021. An extremely precise work carried out with a scalpel and under a microscope, to find the original splendor of the polyptych, which includes a total of 20 paintings, for a height of 4.4 meters by 3.4.

This technique was preferred to solvents, too aggressive, to remove very old overpainting, going back to the 16th century, with the risk of damaging the paint. The restoration revealed the sense of observation of Hubert Van Eyck who started the painting and of his brother Jan who completed it twelve years later in 1432: the swollen feet of pilgrims, the dust on their shoes, the drops of water from a fountain, footprints on the sand, the reflection of the sun on an armor ...

And it has restored the animal in its authenticity and its splendor. Overpainted had adorned him with an additional pair of ears. Its original ears were revealed in the 1950s during a previous restoration, but the old ones could not be removed.

The Lamb "has regained its calling power"

"The removal of the repaints completely changed his countenance. He had a sheep's head; the eyes were on the side. By removing the repaints, we discovered eyes that looked straight ahead. He now has a physical presence and a look that appeals to the faithful, the spectator. He has regained his power of inquiry " , says one of the restaurateurs, Marie Postec, comparing the Van Eyck to " Vinci from the north ".

The removal of the overpainting from the head of the lamb required two weeks of scalpel work, millimeter by millimeter. Thirteen restorers, including specialists in polychromy and wood, worked three years on this part of the altarpiece. The restored panels will return at the end of January to the Saint Bavo Cathedral in Ghent where they will be exhibited in a glass cage.

The exact date of the transfer is kept secret for security reasons, a legitimate concern since one of the panels of the altarpiece, that of the Just Judges , stolen by a sacristan in 1934, has never been found. One of the many misadventures of the work, confiscated under Hitler and sheltered in an Austrian salt mine before the Americans recovered it ...

The third phase of restoration "will be the most difficult."

The restoration of the upper register - which notably represents Christ the King between the Virgin and John the Baptist - will start at the beginning of 2021. It will be preceded by a large Jan Van Eyck exhibition from February 1 to April 30, 2020 at the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent , highlight of the year Van Eyck with the opening of a visitor center at the cathedral. "This third phase will be the most difficult. There are a lot of repaints and brocades in relief in very damaged tin leaf, " warns Hélène Dubois. A new adventure for the masterpiece. France info