Restorers work tirelessly to reveal original Mystic Lamb
After nine months the restoration work of Hubert and Jan Van Eyck’s late gothic altarpiece, the Mystic Lamb, is well on track and the difference between the treated and untreated sections of the panels is astounding. The public, who can watch the restorers at work at the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent, can now start to enjoy the transformation of this masterpiece that is taking place before their eyes. The international commission of experts managing the project met in Ghent this month to discuss make a first evaluation. It was decided to remove all additions that were made at a later stage to reveal the original layer of paint in all its colourful glory and masterly details which are currently hidden by additional layers of paint and varnish. The only disadvantage of this approach is that any damage, holes and worn areas will be revealed as well. According to the experts, a total restoration would be the only way to keep the work in the best possible condition for as long as possible. It will also ensure the presentation of the altarpiece in the way the Van Eyck had intended it. The restoration of the side compartments, which was the first phase of the project, already shows what can be expected once it is all completed. Compartments that were yellow and darkened have become bright and light, showing that Van Eyck’s work had much more light and depth than believed. Like the side compartments, which are still in their original frame, the painted frames have been darkened considerably by all the varnish and additional layers of paint. The restoration of the panels also revealed the famous ‘quatrain’ that confirms the authorship of Hubert and Jan Van Eyck. The first cleaning showed that the letters of the quatrain deviated from the transcription which has been generally accepted to be the correct one. This could now shed new light on the dating and interpretation of the text and serve as material for new discussions.With the entire project, executed by a team of eight artisans, still running according to schedule, the wing compartments will be returned to the Sint Baafs Cathedral in October next year. Work will then commence on the top compartments. The entire project is scheduled for completion towards the end of 2017.