Amazingly beautiful restoration of the original Adoration of the Mystic Lamb

28/06/2018

The Van Eyck brothers would undoubtedly be ecstatic about the restored lamb, the main character in their world-famous polyptych altarpiece. For around 500 years it has had to make do with a much wider forehead, eyes on the side and a fixed gaze. And most of all with a grand total of four ears! This was the result of careless overpainting in the mid-16th century, in an attempt to camouflage light damage and previous restoration of the masterpiece from 1432 and to make it look ‘perfect’ again. During the last restoration, in 1951, the original ears were revealed. This is when it became clear that there was another lamb under the one that could be seen.

Multidisciplinary research at the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA), in partnership with the universities of Ghent and Antwerp, have now exposed the original medieval painting. This is remarkably different to the one we know: smaller, with a more pointed muzzle and large eyes on the front that look intensely at its audience as if to involve spectators in the ultimate sacrificial scene. Exactly 45% of the painted surface of the central panel featuring the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb had been overpainted.

At the end of 2016, the restored outer panels were already reinstalled in Ghent's St. Bavo's Cathedral, the home of this retable or framed altarpiece. It is hoped that the restoration of the central panel and side panels will be completed by 2020, the year of Van Eyck. The work is being carried out in a glass workshop in the Museum of Fine Arts (MSK) in Ghent. Those wishing to see the panel with the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb are recommended to visit during the weekend.