Could we be one step closer to solving Belgium’s most enduring mystery – the disappearance of a panel from the world-famous altarpiece known in English as the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb by Jan Van Eyck and his brother Hubert. The work is considered one of the greatest masterpieces of early Netherlandish art, and was created for St. Bavo’s Cathedral in Ghent, painted by Jan Van Eyck between 1430 and 1432, according to a design made by Hubert a decade earlier. The work consists of a hinged cabinet showing saints and angels on the closed view, with portraits of the donor and his wife. On the open view, the scene revolves around the Lamb of the title, being venerated by prophets and apostles, martyrs, and the judges and knights of Christ. At the top of the cabinet, a trio of the Virgin, God and John the Baptist.
However in 1934, two of the panels – John the Baptist and the Just Judges – went missing. John the Baptist was quickly recovered, but the Just Judges panel remains missing to this day. Its space is now occupied by a copy.
Now the author Marc De Bel has written a book for children in which, based on research by the fanatical investigator Gino Marchal, in which he claims that the missing panel is to be found in a small tunnel under the Kalandeberg in Ghent, not far from the cathedral from where it was stolen. The tunnel, uncovered during sewer works two years before the theft, was known to the late Arsène Goedertier, long considered the prime suspect in the theft.
“This evidence is being taken seriously by the prosecutor’s office,” said Daniel Termont, mayor of Ghent. Over the 84 years since the theft, hundreds of theories have been advanced; none of them led to the panel’s recovery.
“This is of major importance for the city and for Flemish art history,” Termont said. “It would be wonderful to recover the panel for this generation. If this new theory were no more than a stunt to promote a book, I would not have cooperated, and we would not as a city have made the council chamber available for a press conference.”
The Ghent prosecutor’s office declined to comment on its investigation.