One of the greatest masterpieces in the world, and certainly the most stolen piece of art of all time, the Adoration of the Mystical Lamb by Hubert and Jan van Eyck, also known as the Ghent Altarpiece, has a new € glass case 30 million (£ 26 million).
While remaining inside the St. Bavo Cathedral in Ghent, Belgium, for which it was painted in 1432 by the Van Eyck brothers, the 12-panel polyptych will be located in the chapel of the Sacrament, the largest chapel in the cathedral and further east, within a bulletproof spot with 6 meters high and 100 cubic meters interior.
The advantages of the new arrangements include a better visitor experience and better climatic conditions for the work, which has been meticulously restored to its former glory in the past seven years. The indoor temperature of the unheated cathedral drops to 2 ° C in winter and the cathedral is sometimes filled with sunlight through its colorful stained glass.
But, understandably, one of the main priorities of those involved in the project has been the safety of the masterpiece. During its 588-year history, the Ghent Altarpiece was almost burned by rebel Calvinists, stolen by Napoleon for the Louvre in Paris, cut in half after falling into the hands of the King of Prussia, coveted by Hermann Göring and taken away by Adolf Hitler before to be rescued by a team of double commanding officers from an Austrian salt mine, where it was destined to be blown up with dynamite.
He did not survive completely unscathed. One of his 12 panels remains missing after a bold assault on the night of April 10, 1934, which has since confused police detectives, confused amateur detectives, and led Nazi agents ordered by Goebbels to despair to find him as a gift for the German Führer.
In its new showcase, the work will be positioned above an altar in the Sacramento chapel where it will be hung in a pneumatically controlled steel frame, to allow unimpeded movement of its side panels, avoiding the need for rockers to physically access the showcase. Every morning and every night, the polyptych will be opened and closed smoothly. But large security doors were installed in the cathedral to allow easy evacuation of the wooden panels in an emergency.
To allow access to visitors, while maintaining high security, there was significant demolition and redesign of some of the old stone walls of the cathedral, which explains the significant bill paid by the Flemish government and other sponsors. The high security translucent glass box itself cost 5 million euros.
At the formal opening on Thursday, Jan Jambon, the prime minister of Flanders, said he expected tourists to arrive in greater numbers than ever before. Due to Covid’s restrictions, visitors will be invited to book an exhibition of the masterpiece from March 29. “Jan van Eyck was a genius who surprised the world for more than five centuries with his innovative techniques,” said Jambon. “Both the magnificent restoration and the circumstances in which the Ghent altarpiece can now be admired are surprising.
“The splendor of the colors, the details, the lighting: everything is perfect. This makes us proud. We are pleased that the Flemish government has contributed to this and that we are able to show this masterpiece to our children and grandchildren and, hopefully, soon to many tourists ”.