Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb

In college, I wrote an extensive compare and contrast paper on the Simone Martini and van Eyck Ghent Altarpiece Annunciations. I am fond of Annunciation paintings and enjoyed the process but had no idea what that exercise was really preparing me for.

I took the train up from Brussels to Ghent in '97 to visit a director friend who was a juror at the Ghent Film Festival. While there, I ran around town, taking in the sights. I saw a sign for the Ghent Altarpiece and ducked into St. Bavo Cathedral for a look. Honestly, I could still be standing there to this day.

The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, completed in 1432, is the most magnificent piece of artwork I have ever beheld. It is absolute magic. It helped that I was familiar with the images — I was grateful to have already grasped the general form. Most of us have looked at reproductions of a painting and then seen the actual painting; of course, it's a different experience. Standing before The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb was light years beyond anything I could have grasped from a photograph. To describe it would be to describe the light in Venice or the Grand Canyon as the sun rises and sets. What sets this work beyond imagination is that it is not the natural world in motion, it's a painting.

Based on his examination of earlier landscape miniatures in the Hours of Turin evidenced to be by the hand of Hubert van Eyck, because of the inscription on the altarpiece that attributes most of the work to Hubert, and by comparing the subsequent work of Jan van Eyck, Kenneth Clark concludes that Hubert van Eyck painted the landscapes in the altarpiece. Regardless of evidence and maybe because so many of both van Eyck brothers work has been lost, who painted what, and did Hubert even exist is, apparently, an issue for art historians. Even in the Büttner Landscape Painting: A History, only Hubert's brother Jan van Eyck is credited for the entire Ghent Altarpiece.

But Büttner does say that
"After Jan van Eyck, naturalistic landscape would be a predictable feature of depictions of Christian subject matter in the Burgundian Netherlands, and emphasis on landscape features virtually a trademark of Netherlandish narrative pictures."
Those places you're supposed to go see before you die? Familiarize yourself with the images and a bit on the background of the Ghent Altarpiece then get yourself to Ghent, go into St. Bavo's and place yourself before this masterpiece.

A wonderful site has been constructed to take you comprehensively through the altarpiece at

St. Bavo Cathedral is open to the public. Follow that link to see visiting hours and succinct information on the panels and history.

Read my other posts on the history of Landscape Painting.

See my paintings at Landscape into Art.

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1 comment:

Sandy Maudlin said...

What a gre4at history lesson from a person who truely loves art. Thanks so much.