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The Ghent Altarpiece

Research and Conservation of the Exterior

B. Fransen & C. Stroo (ed.)
Contributions by S. Jones, G. Steyaert, A.-S. Augustyniak, C. Ceulemans, A. Coudray, D. Deneffe, L. Depuydt, B. Devolder, H. Dubois, B. Fransen, A. Genbrugge, J.-A. Glatigny, K. Janssens, S.F. Jones, J. Ketels, L. Mortiaux, N. Laquière, M. Martens, C. Mehagnoul, M. Postec, J. Reyniers, F. Rosier, J. Sanyova, M.H. Smith, R. Spronk, G. Steyaert, C. Stroo, P. Vandenabeele, G. Van der Snickt & A. van Grevenstein-Kruse
ISBN 978-2-930054-38-4
2020, KIK-IRPA, 450 p.
Available in English
Serie: Contributions
€ 70
Also for sale at the KIK-IRPA’s reception desk

The outer panels of the Ghent Altarpiece had been overpainted to a considerable extent. The virtuosity of the Eyckian technique and aesthetics remained hardly visible. And yet, this had never been observed before the start of the conservation treatment.

By removing the overpaint, the tonal richness and the coherent rendering of light and space once again came to the fore. Especially the suggestion of volumes and the spaciousness of the ensemble gained strength because of the virtuoso play of deep shadows and bright light accents, and not in the least because of the surprising trompe-l'oeil effect of the frames conceived as a stone framework.

The subtleties of the Eyckian technique could also be mapped out in more detail. How the Van Eycks managed to keep the final result and the desired effect in mind during every phase of the execution, from imprimatura to finishing touch. The artists made a statement about the art of painting, giving ‘technique’ as such a new prominence. The Ghent Altarpiece may be understood at some point as a major showpiece for a highly sophisticated pictorial technique.

Following this volume on the exterior of the retable, a second volume was published in 2021, which focuses on the lower register of the interior of the retable.

"It is undoubtedly an essential resource for scientists and conservators; however, I also urge art historians to read it cover to cover. It approaches the Ghent Altarpiece foremost from a material perspective, but also answers art historical questions in the context of its history of display, interventions, and conservation."

Abbie Vandivere (in HNA News, 10/2020)
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