Ghent altarpiece


Ghent altarpiece
(c. 1425-1432; Ghent, Cathedral of St-Bavon)
   The Ghent Altarpiece bears an inscription that states that Hubert van Eyck, "greater than whom none was found," began the work, and his brother Jan, "second in art," completed it on 6 May 1432. It also identifies the donor, Jodocus Vijd, the burgomaster of Ghent who is shown with his wife, Isabella Borluut, kneeling on the altarpiece's cover. They adore Sts. John the Baptist and John the Evangelist, both painted in grisaille. Above is the Annunciation, with prophets and sibyls on the lunettes, proper inclusions as these individuals foretold the coming of Christ. Mary and the angel wear white robes set against the natural flesh tones of their hands and faces, as if to denote that a slow transformation from sculpture to real flesh and blood is unfolding before our eyes. In its opened state, the altarpiece presents a rendering in brilliant colors that contrast with the subdued tones of the exterior. The apocalyptic Adoration of the Lamb is featured below, and above are the enthroned God the Father, who wears the papal tiara; the Virgin; and St. John the Baptist, who are flanked by angels and the nude Adam and Eve, whose sin caused the need for Christ's incarnation. Inscriptions above Mary and John extol their virtues respectively as mother and forerunner of Christ, while God's benevolence toward humanity is communicated through the inclusion of pelicans in the cloth of honor behind him that tear their chests open to feed their young—a parallel to God giving up his own son for sacrifice to grant humans salvation. Above these figures are the Offering of Cain and Abel and Cain Killing Abel in grisaille, further references to sacrifice and the sin of mankind. The obsession with rendering every strand of hair, jewel, and other details point to the van Eycks' close tie to the miniaturist tradition. The discrepancy in the scale of the figures suggests the involvement of two different hands in the rendering of the work. Laboratory analysis has revealed that the panels were reworked (by Jan, if we take the inscription at face value) to provide visual unity.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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