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Closer to Van Eyck in 100 billion pixels The Mystic Lamb has never been so close

Thanks to the Closer to Van Eyck website, since 2012 millions of people have been zooming in on the staggeringly beautiful details of one of the world's most acclaimed works of art: the Ghent Altarpiece. In 2020, more than a quarter of a million interested people worldwide already took a look, and in the COVID period the number of visitors even increased by 800%. This shows the enormous potential of modern digital technology to make works of art from all eras widely accessible. The website was recently renewed and contains high resolution images of the restored paintings, new videos and educational material.

Period
2012-
Partners
Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Getty Foundation
Gieskes Strijbis Fonds (Amsterdam)
Universum Digitalis
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Ron Spronk

The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb (1432) by Hubert and Jan van Eyck in Saint Bavo's Cathedral in Ghent is an overwhelmingly beautiful polyptych with biblical themes and figures. After centuries of accumulation of dirt, yellowed varnish, extensive repainting and numerous movements - including storage in a salt mine during WWII - the work of art was in need of restoration. Two thirds of the work has been restored in recent years by a team of highly qualified conservators from KIK. Researchers recorded the treatment in its entirety with photographic and scientific documentation in ultra-high resolution. All these images are now competing for your curiosity on Closer to Van Eyck.

Before, during and after restoration

New photographs after treatment on Closer to Van Eyck show the painted scenes as they were originally intended. Just think of the central motif of the Lamb, which was covered with a more neutral figure in the 16th century. Interdisciplinary research made it possible to remove this overpainting, so that Van Eyck's human Lamb again looks at you in all its intensity. High resolution images before, during and after restoration invite you to experience this transformation for yourself.

Zooming in on details online gives an insight into the fabulous precision and the equally spontaneous and steady hand of the master. The play of light on metals, plants, hair, skin and textures is depicted with unparalleled care. No less than 75 different species of plants in the work can now be identified by botanists, and the shading of leaves, trees and bushes offers a wonderful sense of depth and three-dimensionality. Even the ground shows unseen nuances, from soggy mud to soft sand and hard rocks studded with gems, crystals and coral. The cleaning also revealed meticulously detailed buildings that had been hidden for centuries under layers of overpainting.

Surprises under the paint layer

New infrared reflectography (IRR) images take the viewer right through the paint surface to the signing: the first stages of the design of the compositions where the artist's creative process unfolds. The seamless image assembly now offers an undisturbed view of this fascinating microcosm. In addition, the IRR images show underlying paintings executed in a dark paint, as in the foliage of the trees behind Saint Christopher in The Pilgrims.

De blijvend hoge waardering voor 'Closer to Van Eyck' sinds 2012 heeft al onze verwachtingen overtroffen. De site wordt alsmaar drukker bezocht voor onderzoek en onderwijs, maar ook om in alle rust en van heel dichtbij van het Lam Gods te kunnen genieten.

Ron Spronk

A lot of extras

Via the 'Extras' menu on the website, you can access, among other things, the richly illustrated treatment reports, as well as a series of videos in which the scientists explain the restoration process. This gives you a transparent insight into the treatment of the painting as well as into the decision-making process of this complex restoration treatment. In the 'Learn more' section you will find a rich collection of didactic materials about the research methods used and the restoration. In 2018, Closer to Van Eyck received the E-Gov Award (in the usability category) from AGORIA, the Belgian federation for technology companies.

In addition to the documentation on the Lamb of God, Closer to Van Eyck also features scientific visual material of Jan van Eyck's other oeuvre, made as part of the VERONA project (Van Eyck Research in OpeN Access).

The first part of the website, about the restoration of the Mystic Lamb, is coordinated by Ron Spronk (Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada; Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands), and financially supported by the Getty Foundation and the Gieskes Strijbis Fund (Amsterdam).

The second part of the website, about Jan van Eyck's remaining oeuvre, is coordinated by Bart Fransen (KIK) and made possible with the support of BELSPO, Musea Brugge/Kenniscentrum vzw and Closer to Van Eyck.

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