New version 'Closer to Van Eyck'

The Getty and the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA, Brussels, Belgium), in collaboration with the Gieskes Strijbis Fund in Amsterdam, are launching a new version of the website ‘Closer to Van Eyck’ that includes images of recently restored sections of the Ghent Altarpiece as well as new videos and educational materials.

Two-thirds of the Ghent Altarpiece has already been treated by a team of highly skilled conservators from KIK-IRPA. The first phase of the restoration (on the exterior panels, visible when the altarpiece is closed) was completed in 2016. It reached a new milestone in December last year with the completion of the second phase, which included the restoration of the eponymous Adoration of the Lamb and the results of which are now available to view on the updated site. The conservation treatment has been captured in full through ultra-high resolution photographic and scientific documentation by KIK-IRPA’s imagery team and all these images can now be studied on ‘Closer to Van Eyck’.

New after-treatment images on 'Closer to Van Eyck' present many of the scenes in the altarpiece as they were originally meant to be seen. This includes the much-publicized Lamb of God at the very center of the painting (above), which had been ‘toned down’ by a 16th-century overpainting. Interdisciplinary state-of-the art research allowed for the removal of this layer of overpaint, finally revealing the Van Eycks’ intense representation of the Lamb’s human-like features. High-resolution images before, during and after restoration now allow visitors to compare the results for themselves. 

 Before restoration (with the 16th-century overpaint still present) During restoration (showing the Van Eycks’ original Lamb from 1432 before retouching) After retouching (the final result of the restoration)
Three times The Lamb of God on the central panel, from left to right: Before restoration (with the 16th-century overpaint still present) During restoration (showing the Van Eycks’ original Lamb from 1432 before retouching) After retouching (the final result of the restoration)

Zooming into the details with this website provides a fascinating insight into the accuracy and ease of the master’s hand. Light plays on metals, plants, hair, skin, and textures that are reproduced with unparalleled attention. No less than 75 individual species of plants in the paintings can now be identified by botanists, and the shadows of leaves, trees and bushes offer a wondrous sense of depth and three-dimensionality. Even the ground displays extraordinary nuances, from waterlogged mud to soft sand and hard rocks scattered with gemstones, crystals, and coral. The cleaning also revealed minutely detailed buildings that were hidden for centuries under layers of overpaint. 

Detail from the Hermits, after restoration
Detail from the Hermits, after restoration

New infrared reflectography images (IRRs) take viewers on a journey beyond the paint surface to the underdrawings: the first stages of the design of the compositions that reveal the artist’s creative process. 

 The two trees in the centre were not initially planned but added later by the Van Eycks, after the sky was already completed.
Detail from the Pilgrims: The infrared reflectography image on the left shows both elaborate underdrawing in the figures and underpainting for the foliage. Comparison with the image on the right reveals the artists’ creative process: The two trees in the centre were not initially planned but added later by the Van Eycks, after the sky was already completed.

The newly released conservation report on phase two of the treatment is available for download on the website. This beautifully illustrated account gives a unique insight into the inner workings of the decision-making process during the conservation and restoration treatment. 

More information

closertovaneyck.be

See all partners who contributed to the project.

(news item 27 August 2020)