The Ghent altarpiece (1432) by The Ghent altarpiece

The Ghent altarpiece - Jan van Eyck - 1432

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Artwork Information

TitleThe Ghent altarpiece
ArtistJan van Eyck
MediumOil on Wood
Dimensions461 x 350 cm
Art MovementNorthern Renaissance
Current LocationSt. Bavo Cathedral, Ghent, Belgium

About The Ghent altarpiece

The Ghent Altarpiece, a venerable and complex artwork executed in oil on wood by Jan van Eyck in 1432, embodies the Northern Renaissance spirit. Measuring an impressive 461 by 350 centimeters, this religious painting is situated within the sacred space of St. Bavo Cathedral in Ghent, Belgium. As part of the series to which it belongs, the altarpiece enriches its genre with a profound narrative and exquisite attention to detail.

The artwork is a polyptych, consisting of numerous panels that are hinged together, allowing it to be opened and closed. When fully displayed, it reveals a richly detailed representation of religious iconography and biblical scenes. The centerpiece of the altarpiece is a majestic portrayal of God, robed in regal attire, seated upon an ornate throne. To the left, the Virgin Mary is depicted in an attitude of serene contemplation, adorned with a crown and reading from a prayer book. To the right, John the Baptist appears in a camel hair robe, with a book in hand, a symbol of his prophetic mission.

Flanking these central figures are panels featuring Adam and Eve in stunningly lifelike representations, each housed within their own niches. Below the central tier of panels, the artwork continues with an elaborate representation of the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. This iconic scene depicts a diverse throng of saints, martyrs, and angels gathered around an altar where the Lamb of God stands, a reference to Christ’s sacrifice and the promise of redemption. This assembly is positioned within an idyllic landscape that stretches out across the lower panels, complete with verdant greenery and distant city views, showcasing van Eyck’s mastery over landscape painting.

The altarpiece is notable for its intricate use of symbolism, theological depth, and the exceptional realism with which figures and nature are rendered, a hallmark of Jan van Eyck’s technique. Its composition is a testament to the religious fervor of the era and reflects the emerging humanist tendencies that characterized the Northern Renaissance, presenting not only divine figures but also detailed portrayals of the natural world with unparalleled accuracy and care.

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