THE MONUMENTS MEN
The Ghent Altarpiece
The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb or Lamb of God, an early Flemish polyptych
panel painting, is one of the world's most spectacular and revered artworks. It
is commonly called The Ghent Altarpiece due to its home in St. Bavo's Cathedral
in the Belgian city of Ghent.
It is believed the work had been started by Hubert Van Eyck around 1415 and
taken over by his younger and more prolific brother, Jan, upon Hubert's death in
1426. Jan completed the work in 1432. Art historians generally agree that Jan
did the lion's share of the painting. The magnificent 12-panel altarpiece is a
complicated production, comprised of eight hinged shutters, painted on both
sides, which presents two distinct views, depending on whether they are opened
The Ghent Altarpiece is also reputed to be one of the most frequently stolen
pieces of artwork:
1566: The altarpiece is dismantled and hidden to protect its burning as a
Catholic icon by Calvinists.
1784 to 1860: Two panels, depicting the nude figures of Adam and Eve,
I794: The four panels depicting The Adoration are taken to Paris by the
1816/17: Six shutters are purchased by William of Prussia.
1914-1918: The altarpiece is divided among three cities, Brussels, Berlin and
In 1914: Germans steal the Adam and Eve panels.
1919: A clause in the Treaty of Versailles - at the insistence of world art
critics - demands the return of all panels to their original site in Ghent. The
clause was not enforced until 1923.
1935: The Righteous Judges and Saint John the Baptist panels are stolen,
followed by a ransom demand. The Saint John panel is returned as a "show of good
faith" but no ransom is paid. The Judges panel is never recovered. (Belgian
restorer Jan van der Veken repainted the missing panel after World War II.)
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