The adoration of the mystic lamb

Ghent Travel Blog

 › entry 24 of 78 › view all entries
I had to go to Gent University for a meeting, so afterwards Lydia and I took the opportunity to visit the Saint Bavo Cathedral. The Cathedral was consecrated in 942, expanded in 1038 in Romanesque style and again in 1569 in Gothic style. The Cathedral is impressive in its stunning size, it is staggering to think of how people were able to build such high and elegant walls a thousand years ago. The power the Church must have had to be able to conscript the labour and wealth required to build it - and the power such a building would give over people who were themselves living in poverty in wooden huts.

We were in Saint Bravo Cathedral to see the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. The painting is a large polyptych panel painting, completed in 1432, and is considered to be one of the best surviving artworks of early Dutch style. It was painted by Hubert van Eyck and Jan van Eyck, and paid for by the wealthy merchant Joost Vijdt and his wife Lysbette Borluut. The painting is lucky to have survived - many other artworks in the Cathedral were destroyed in the Belgian Iconoclasm, Emperor Joseph II insisted on replacing two panels that included nudity (they have since been put back), the painting was taken by the French during the French Revolution and by the Germans during WWII, and one panel was stolen in 1934 and has never been found. The painting was impressive in its detail - every ripple of the robe and detail of jewerly had painstakenly been reproduced; painfully symbolic in the way Christian paintings typically are; and slightly sickining in the social values it represents, with purity coming from drinking the blood of an innocent lamb and women being judged by their sexual status. What interested me most was the painting of Joost Vijdt, the donor of the alterpiece. The painter captured every facial flaw, the raised veins on his hands and also the selfrightous smug look of fake piety which screamed out "I am a ruthless prick who extorted wealth from the poor, but I am rich enough to buy my own version of posterity and hubristic enough to have myself featured on a painting meant to extol humility".
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photo by: lasersurge