Restoration of a piece of classic Belgian art and renowned world treasure, the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb (also known as the Ghent Altarpiece), has received a huge boost via a €172,000 grant from the Getty Foundation.
The work was started by Hubert van Eyck and finished by his younger brother Jan, after Hubert died in 1426. It was finally completed six years later in 1432.
Housed in the city’s Saint Bavo Cathedral, the polyptych painting has now had the grant from the US-based Getty Foundation set aside to pay for it to be completely cleaned and its condition thoroughly investigated.
With only fragile wooden backing to the 18 panels (featuring 24 scenes), plenty of problems can arise over the centuries and the grant is also intended to allow study of such issues for the benefit of painted-panel art and its small band of restorers worldwide.
The 24 compartmented scenes make up two views, open and closed, changed by moving the hinged outer wings. The lower register of the central panel shows the adoration of the Lamb of God, from which the name derives.
There was once an inscription on the frame stating that Hubert van Eyck ‘maior quo nemo repertus’ (greater than the rest) started the piece but that Jan (arte secundus, or second best) - finished it.
The original, ornate carved outer frame and surround was destroyed during the Reformation while the original left panel – The Just Judges - was stolen in 1934. The current version of the panel is a copy made in 1945.
The tradition of painting on wood panels was widespread in Europe from the late 12th through to the 17th century. Over the years, many such works have become threatened by serious problems due to the warping, cracking, and splitting of the wood.
Solving such issues requires highly specialised care and conservation not only of the painted surface, but also of the underlying structure.
Today, there are just a few experts fully qualified to conserve these paintings, and nearly all are expected to retire within the next decade.
The Getty grant will pay for a state-of-the-art conservation investigation, a condition assessment, plus, crucially, training for three post-graduate and several mid-career conservators to work with current experts.
The project is scheduled for completion in December this year.
(Photos courtesy of “Sint Baafskathedraal Gent © Lukas - Art in Flanders vzw”)