The Ghent Altarpiece in 100 billion pixels

It is now possible to zoom into the intricate, breathtaking details of one of the most important works of art in the world, thanks to a newly completed website focused on the Ghent Altarpiece.

A stunning and highly complex painting composed of separate oak panels, The Mystic Lamb of 1432 by Hubert and Jan van Eyck, known as the Ghent Altarpiece and kept in the Villa Chapel in St. Bavo Cathedral in Ghent, recently underwent much-needed emergency conservation to which KIK-IRPA contributed in large part. As part of this work, the altarpiece was removed from its glass enclosure and temporarily dismantled-a rare event which also made it possible to undertake a comprehensive examination and documentation, supported by the Getty Foundation in Los Angeles.

Each centimeter of the altarpiece was scrutinized and photographed at extremely high resolution in both regular and infrared light. The photographs were then digitally "stitched" together to create highly detailed images which allow for study of the painting at unprecedented microscopic levels. The website itself contains 100 billion pixels.

For the first time in the Ghent Altarpiece's history, viewers may peek under the work's paint surfaces by means of infrared reflectography (IRR) and x-radiography to study the van Eycks' genius in unparalleled microscopic magnification. Taken together, this body of documentation represents an invaluable archive for scholars, conservators, and art lovers worldwide.

This is a project of the Getty Foundation and the Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek, realised in cooperation with the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA, Brussels), the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Universum Digitalis and Lukasweb.

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