2020 will be ‘the year of Van Eyck’ as restored Ghent Altarpiece goes on show
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2020 will be ‘the year of Van Eyck’ as restored Ghent Altarpiece goes on show

During the second phase of the restoration, of the five lower panels of the opened altarpiece, including the central panel which features 'The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb'. Credit: Museum voor Schone Kunsten Gent

In Ghent, the year 2020 will revolve around Jan Van Eyck, the Belgian painter of ‘The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’, more commonly known as the Ghent Altarpiece.

The world-famous painting, known in Dutch as ‘De aanbidding van het Lam Gods’ or ‘Lam Gods’ for short, was created by Jan Van Eyck in 1432. He painted it in the city of Ghent, and it was hung in the Saint Bavo’s Cathedral, where, six centuries later, visitors still go to view it today.

In October 2012, the restoration of the triptych, a painting created on three panels, started at the Museum of Fine Arts Ghent (MSK), which provided a special air-conditioned room, and was executed in the museum itself, where visitors could follow the process behind glass and interact with the restorers.

The Royal Institute for Art Patrimony (KIK) finished the first stage of the restoration of the outer panels in their original frames in October 2016, after which they were returned to the Cathedral.

The entire altarpiece. Credit: MSK Gent

During the second phase of the restoration, of the five lower panels of the opened altarpiece, including the central panel which features ‘The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’, or the part of the painting that gave it its name. This phase was finished on 31 December 2019, just before the end of the decade.

The Flemish government has financed 80% of the costs, which amounts to over €1.5 million.

2020 has been proclaimed the year of Van Eyck in Ghent and Flanders, and will see the city organising many projects dedicated to putting Van Eyck’s work in the spotlight. The Museum of Fine Arts Ghent will dedicate an entire exhibition to the Flemish master with the eight restored exterior panels of the Altarpiece at its centre.

Never before have all eight panels been displayed in an exhibition outside Saint Bavo’s Cathedral, or been exhibited together with other works by Van Eyck or his contemporaries. Additionally, the Cathedral will open a new visitor centre for the Altarpiece retable after the exhibition comes to an end and the painting will be returned to its original place.

In October 2012, the restoration of the triptych, a painting created on three panels, started. Credit: MSK Gent

Once returned, the panels will never leave the cathedral again after 2020, making the exhibition both the first and last chance to view them up close and in a broader context.

Nine other artworks by Van Eyck will also be displayed, as well as several pieces from his studio, and about 100 international other renowned works from the late-Middle Ages.

In 2021, as the third and last phase of the restoration, the top parts of the inner panels will be restored after the exhibition has ended. After the restoration of several unforeseen paint layers in the painting took up more budget than originally planned, it was expected that the new Flemish government that was elected in 2019, would clear new budgets to finish the entire project.

The aim was to provide a new budget to show the retable as a homogeneous and harmoniously restored ensemble, with the church factory submitting a new subsidy application for this. However, now that the Flemish government has decided to cut the subsidies for the cultural sector, it has not been made clear what exactly will happen with this last phase of the project.

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times

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