The Ghent Altarpiece (Open) by Hubert van Eyck and Jan van Eyck
Ghent Altarpiece (Photo: © Archivo Iconografico, SA/Corbis)

Just about everything bad that could happen to a painting has happened to Hubert and Jan van Eyck’s Adoration of the Mystic Lamb (also known as the Ghent Altarpiece). It’s almost been destroyed in a fire, was nearly burned by rioting Calvinists, it’s been forged, pillaged, dismembered, censored, stolen by Napoleon, hunted in the first world war, sold by a renegade cleric, then stolen repeatedly during the second world war, before being rescued by The Monuments Men, miners and a team of commando double-agents. The fact that it was the artwork the Nazis were most desperate to steal – Göring wanted it for his private collection, Hitler as the centrepiece of his citywide super-museum – has only increased its renown.

It’s easy to argue that the artwork is the most influential painting ever made: it was the world’s first major oil painting, and is laced with Catholic mysticism. It’s almost an A to Z of Christianity – from the annunciation to the symbolic sacrifice of Christ, with the “mystic lamb” on an altar in a heavenly field, bleeding into the holy grail.

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Noah Charney
Guardian

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