Het Lam Gods
January 21, 2020 8:29 AM   Subscribe

Eight years into the restoration of the famous Ghent Altarpiece, overpainting has been removed to reveal the face of the Lamb of God as envisioned by the Van Eyck brothers, unseen since it was covered up in the 16th century.

Additional photos of the restoration are available in a PDF of the official press kit from Belgium's Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage.
posted by Copronymus (47 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
aaaaaagh
posted by fluttering hellfire at 8:30 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Ahhqahhahhahahahaha
posted by odinsdream at 8:32 AM on January 21 [2 favorites]


“Oh, come on, gimme a kiss...”
posted by njohnson23 at 8:34 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Lambtse
posted by chavenet at 8:34 AM on January 21 [2 favorites]


You know, soft focus helps a lot of us out.
posted by dinty_moore at 8:34 AM on January 21 [29 favorites]


U can’t have me at my

If you won’t love me at my
posted by Going To Maine at 8:38 AM on January 21 [6 favorites]


It's like the mirror-universe Ecce Homo
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:38 AM on January 21 [12 favorites]


The original lamb has a more “intense interaction with the onlookers,” Dubois says

Aaaahahaha no shit
posted by potrzebie at 8:39 AM on January 21 [20 favorites]


left lamb: you ever die for the sins of humanity?
right lamb: you ever die for the sins of humanity ... ON WEED ???
posted by Greg Nog at 8:42 AM on January 21 [38 favorites]


I'm really just amused thinking of how someone brought in the second painter, maybe because the original lamb was making children cry and milk curdle, to give the lamb a softer and more actual-sheep-like face.

But I kinda love Hypnotoad Lamb, not gonna lie.
posted by emjaybee at 8:42 AM on January 21 [27 favorites]


Therapist: the Van Eyck brothers’ Lamb of God painting isn’t real, it can’t hurt you.

Lamb of God painting:
posted by hototogisu at 8:43 AM on January 21 [6 favorites]


no sir i don't like it
posted by poffin boffin at 8:45 AM on January 21 [6 favorites]


the EYES

why
posted by poffin boffin at 8:46 AM on January 21 [2 favorites]


Agnus? Dei knew how to do it.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:46 AM on January 21 [2 favorites]


Ray? Ray Smuckles?
posted by mumkin at 8:46 AM on January 21 [6 favorites]


Ecce Agnus
posted by pykrete jungle at 8:53 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]


The original lamb does have a more “intense interaction with the onlookers.” The overpainted one is more sheepish.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:53 AM on January 21 [16 favorites]


2009/2019
posted by bondcliff at 8:53 AM on January 21 [17 favorites]


Everyone's talking about the eyes but imo the Mac & Me ears are doing a lot of the work here
posted by theodolite at 8:53 AM on January 21 [8 favorites]


Hieronymus Bosch revealed as time-traveler! Very exciting.
posted by Caxton1476 at 8:57 AM on January 21 [2 favorites]


“This overpainting had been done so early on, and following the shapes of the original, with very similar pigments that had also aged in a similar way, that it was not actually visible on the technical documentation when the altarpiece first came in for treatment,”

How are they certain that the overpainting wasn't actually done by the Van Eycks themselves? This description seems to indicate that the overpainting was done so early, and using materials pretty much exactly as the original, as to make me wonder if the overpainting wasn't a "Oh, shit, that's frackin' scary. We gotta fix that!" moment on the part of the Van Eycks.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:08 AM on January 21 [14 favorites]


How are they certain that the overpainting wasn't actually done by the Van Eycks themselves?

The overpainting is thought to be done in the 1550s - over 100 years after the original painting (1432). So it was earlyish, but not that early.
posted by scorbet at 9:23 AM on January 21 [9 favorites]


Medieval Twitter is aflutter, bringing to me with it news of its existence.
posted by hilberseimer at 9:27 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]


I hope there's a documentary film of the process. I love that stuff. Check out the Getty's youtube if that kind of stuff sounds to you.
posted by hilberseimer at 9:30 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]


You've seen it! You can't UN-SEE it!

Next week on more Tales of Disturbing Livestock Paintings!
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 9:34 AM on January 21 [4 favorites]


We were somewhere around Barstow, on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold.
posted by dismas at 9:39 AM on January 21 [6 favorites]


SHEEPLE: "wake up!"

and using materials pretty much exactly as the original

Changes in available paint pigments were a slow iterative process over the centuries; the significance of the same pigments being used isn't I think that it tells us anything about who was painting each pass but just that it made up-front analysis of the content of the painting less a thing of obvious separation into very different time periods between the different strata of paint. e.g. if someone lays a very different set of pigments over a lower layer (or if someone lays a very different shape or outline or border of paint over a lower layer) you can tell very easily that something happened while examining the profile of a small chip or imaging the overall painting. If someone uses mostly the same paints (which is totally plausible for two passes in the 15th and 16th C. respectively) and paints mostly the same regions and outlines, that's going to be much less obvious and the devil will be in the details.

The intensely, binocularly staring details.
posted by cortex at 9:44 AM on January 21 [7 favorites]


Oh it's terrifying, but it does make sense. That's no ordinary sheep; that's God Incarnate As A Sheep. Or a sheep representing God Incarnate As A Man. So...it could be pretty freaky.
posted by timdiggerm at 9:45 AM on January 21 [11 favorites]


Yeah! It's like depictions of angels with too many eyes, wings, and limbs. It's supposed to be uncanny. I kind of love it?
posted by tobascodagama at 9:59 AM on January 21 [6 favorites]


Early modern paintings involving the divine aren't supposed to be charming or pastoral or even realistic, they're supposed to REPRESENT.
posted by praemunire at 10:02 AM on January 21 [8 favorites]


Y U want to make sheep's eyes me, Jan, can't you blur that detail somewhat for your poor Granny's heart?
posted by Mrs Potato at 10:24 AM on January 21 [2 favorites]


Oh it's terrifying, but it does make sense. That's no ordinary sheep; that's God Incarnate As A Sheep. Or a sheep representing God Incarnate As A Man. So...it could be pretty freaky.

It's definitely in the tradition of paintings and icons where Baby Jesus looks like a weird miniature adult for theological reasons.
posted by Copronymus at 10:36 AM on January 21 [4 favorites]


That's no merino…it's a space station.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:40 AM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Van Eycks: Let's make the Lamb of God look super uncanny, that will be cool
Anonymous repainter 100 yrs later: WTF did those guys ever even SEE a sheep

(makes me think of Scalzi's The Android's Dream, and not in a good way)
posted by caution live frogs at 10:42 AM on January 21 [11 favorites]


How are they certain that the overpainting wasn't actually done by the Van Eycks themselves? This description seems to indicate that the overpainting was done so early, and using materials pretty much exactly as the original, as to make me wonder if the overpainting wasn't a "Oh, shit, that's frackin' scary. We gotta fix that!" moment on the part of the Van Eycks.

scorbet has already addressed the dating issue, but there are two other strikes against this being by the hand of the Van Eycks that I can think of. First, the overpainting on the rest of that panel apparently covered up some fauna that the Van Eycks had painted based on identifiable plant species and turned it into generic fantasy plants, which is something I have a hard time imagining they would do themselves but a much easier time seeing someone else who was less committed to that kind of strict naturalism do. Second, the overpainting is really sloppy. You can still pretty clearly see the sheep's original set of ears in the pre-restoration version, and overall the face just kind of looks like a blur. Considering this is the centerpiece and focal point of the whole object, I just don't see the original creators ending up with a smudged, four-eared Lamb of God and saying, "eh, whatever, close enough".
posted by Copronymus at 10:46 AM on January 21 [6 favorites]


That's no ordinary sheep; that's God Incarnate As A Sheep.

That is some sort of Dirtbag-Zeus-in-mid-sex-scheme looking sheep though. Like, "I will appear before her in the shape of a lamb and she'll wanna get down then for sure, this is definitely a fully thought out plan that will definitely work, hey baby".
posted by mhoye at 10:51 AM on January 21 [4 favorites]


That lamb has forward facing eyes.
That lamb is a predator.
posted by Adridne at 11:06 AM on January 21 [24 favorites]


The temptation to just... paint back over it again and pretend like nothing happened must be so strong.

"Yeah, we spent 8 years and millions of Euros and we restored it and it turns out the original was just awful. Sorry."
posted by parm at 12:54 PM on January 21 [8 favorites]


I will never unsee this every time I sing an Agnus Dei. I can't decide if this is great or terrible. Yes.
posted by nakedmolerats at 1:17 PM on January 21


Clicking on the link, the Aleteia site also suggested "Abandoned dog finds comfort with Baby Jesus … photos go viral," updated last month and featuring another weird-eyed Lamb of God.
Bonus: adorable shepherd.

(Other site suggestions: First responder (who was once a seminarian) baptizes dying baby and she revives; Woman donates kidney to ex-husband for the sake of the children; 6 Saints to turn to if your child is struggling at school [gee, that's swell; in having St. Jude as their go-to guy, my family made every situation far more fraught than was necessary]; In case you didn’t know, the Vatican Library has been digitized and is online.)
posted by Iris Gambol at 1:29 PM on January 21 [2 favorites]


I really like weird lamb! The overpainting, meh, acceptable sheep, whereas weird original lamb has such character and presence. I love him and would hang him on my wall.
posted by stillnocturnal at 3:54 PM on January 21 [4 favorites]


I did a search for "lamb face" on shutterstock.com and it looks to me as if the freaky Van Eyck rendition is a collage of many naturalistic partial images. Like, you do have eyes like that, but on a sheep's skull they're set to the side rather than facing you. You could only see a sheep's eye like that in a semi-profile, and only one at a time. Sheep's mouths and noses can look like that, but only if their head is raised. Sheep do have crania that look like that, but only when their head is lowered.

Obviously the Van Eycks knew what a lamb looks like, and how to paint one. What I think they're doing here is saying “You can look at an animal and sometimes see a human-like element. What would it be like if you could see all of those things simultaneously?” I'm not a Christian but I think they're putting the viewer in the position of someone who could look at the symbol and see the substance. The result looks weird to me, but if that's what they're doing it's pretty impressive.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:38 PM on January 21 [7 favorites]


I was at a conference of art historians in Ghent a couple of years ago just as they were finishing up that panel and the conservators gave a presentation on their method and on ...this ... and, readers, that gathering of scholars of Flemish Renaissance painting was simultaneously shaken and amused. Over the course of the week everyone would just stop mid-convo and go "Oh my God, THE LAMB" and crack up laughing.
posted by Capybara at 6:24 PM on January 21 [13 favorites]


This actually reminds me of the pictures I took driving through the Wild Animal Safari in Georgia. This is the look ruminants give you before they lick red clay all over your rental car
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:19 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


I..actually don't mind it? I mean, maybe I am just deadened to it as a sussex looker (volunteer shepherd) because I have seen creepier sheep, normally when I am trekking up a hill in the mist to see why one is lying down (they normally get up if you go anywhere near them, persistent lying down can be a sign of illness/foot issues) and then it waits until I'm 2 foot away and then pops up and strolls away, giving me A Face in the process.

I mean, what I am trying to say is, a lot of sheep breeds are assholes have creepy eyes.
posted by halcyonday at 1:19 AM on January 22 [7 favorites]


If you wanna deep dive into the Altarpiece: http://closertovaneyck.kikirpa.be/
posted by stonepharisee at 10:38 AM on January 22


"Yeah, we spent 8 years and millions of Euros and we restored it and it turns out the original was just awful. Sorry."

I must politely disagree here. I've seen that altarpiece a few times (Ghent being a favourite weekend destination) and I've always found it slightly puzzling that the Van Eyck brothers chose to make such an insipid beast the focal point of an otherwise spectacular work. Turns out they didn't, and it makes much more sense this way. I expect it to be a huge improvement.

It says here that the overpainting was financed by Charles V around the time of the Council of Trent, in the early years of the Counter-Reformation. Not quite sure what the full implications would be for active worship, but surely a powerful motivation in adapting - ahem - "to the taste of the time".
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 5:32 AM on January 23 [8 favorites]


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