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The Ghent Altarpiece

Research and Conservation of the Interior: The Lower Register

G. Steyaert, M. Postec, J. Sanyova & H. Dubois
with observations, research and documents by:
Painting Conservators-Restorers :
K. Froyen, N. Laquière, L. Mortiaux, F. Rosier, B. Devolder, C. de Boulard
Chemical Research Scientists:
G. Van der Snickt, F. Mederos-Henry, C. Glaude, F. Vanmeert, S. De Meyer, S. Legrand, A. Coudray, S. Kuckova, K. Janssens
Specialists in Scientific Imagery and Photography:
C. Currie, S. De Potter, K. Van Acker, C. Fondaire, S. Bazzo, H. Pigeolet
ISBN 978-2-930054-41-4
2021, KIK-IRPA, 210 p.
Available in English
Serie: Contributions
€ 58
Also for sale at the KIK-IRPA’s reception desk

The Ghent Altarpiece by Hubert and Jan van Eyck has always attracted both admiration and curiosity. Following the treatment of the closed polyptych, we turned to the paintings of the lower register of the open altarpiece, which includes the famous Adoration of the Lamb. A major research and restoration campaign by the KIK-IRPA was carried out between 2016 and 2020.

The findings reflect those from the treatment of the closed altarpiece: large areas of the panels were covered with overpaints, the vast majority dating from the 16th century. Their removal allows the Van Eycks brothers’ paintings to be truly appreciated again.

The three years that the conservators spent working on the panels enabled them to examine the paintings down to the smallest detail. Interdisciplinary collaboration with laboratory scientists, art historians and experts in scientific imagery led to a series of discoveries – some anticipated in light of earlier research, others completely unexpected.

The authenticity of the quatrain stating that Hubert had begun the work, that his brother Jan completed it and that it was presented in 1432, has been firmly established by the KIK-IRPA in the previous volume on the Ghent Altarpiece (2020). In this second volume, new hypotheses are proposed here regarding the division of labour between the two Van Eyck brothers. The contribution of Hubert, who died in 1426, can finally be seen more clearly and turns out to be far from negligible. But the removal of overpaints has revealed non-Eyckian interventions too...

With thanks and made possible by the support of Fondation Périer-D'Ieteren

This generously illustrated, clearly written volume is an essential addition to the literature on the Ghent Altarpiece. Removing the dirt, varnish, and centuries of repaint has now allowed access to the staggering achievement of the Van Eycks and perhaps of equal importance, has provided a starting point for considering the oeuvre of Hubert van Eyck.

John Oliver Hand (HNA Reviews, February 2022)

The major argument, which is meticulously expounded and relies on a combination of technical and stylistic analyses, is that when it comes to the lower register of the interior there is clear evidence of three phases of execution.

(Apollo, October 2023)
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