Van Eyck in Flanders

Ghent Altarpiece Lam Gods © Art in Flanders, foto Cedric Verhelst
Jan van Eyck is known for quality over quantity. At least, that is what we can conclude from his remaining body of work. Only about twenty of his pieces have survived. These are distributed across the Western world. Five of his masterpieces may be found in Flanders. They are well worth a visit.

St Bavo’s Cathedral, Ghent

Who says Jan van Eyck says the Ghent Altarpiece. While this masterpiece’s full title is The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, it is commonly referred to as the Ghent Altarpiece. The Ghent altar in question is in Saint Bavo’s Cathedral. Van Eyck painted this polyptych specifically for the cathedral. When the work was completed in 1432, it was immediately granted a place of honour there. Nearly six centuries later, this is still its home.

This iconic piece was recently refreshed. Years of meticulous restoration work have brought the sumptuous colours, fine detailing and Van Eyck’s genius back to their original glory. This masterpiece has regained its astounding beauty in full. Experience it for yourself at the brand-new visitor centre in Saint Bavo’s Cathedral. Thanks to the magic of augmented reality, you can travel back in time to experience the Ghent Altarpiece’s tumultuous history as if you were truly there. The supreme mystery of supreme beauty.

Lam Gods, Ghent - (c) lukasweb.be - Art in Flanders
Groeningemuseum Bruges ©Sarah Bauwens

Groeningemuseum, Bruges

Due to his iconic Ghent Altarpiece, the name of Van Eyck is easily linked to Ghent. His bond with Bruges is even stronger, though. The grand master set up his studio and lived most of his professional life there. The city’s Groeningemuseum, which focuses on the Flemish Primitives, possesses two of his works. The first is known as Portrait of Margareta van Eyck. This is, as the name suggests, a portrayal of Van Eyck’s wife Margareta. The second is his Madonna with Canon Joris van der Paele. It is Van Eyck’s largest work after the Ghent Altarpiece. As a sick old man, Van der Paele hoped to secure a place in heaven by having the greatest painter of his time depict his worship of the Virgin Mary. Two historic objects of exquisite artistry, in beautiful Bruges.

Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp

Five of the twenty or so surviving panels by Van Eyck can still be admired in Flanders today. The Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp(KMSKA) has two on proud display. The first is known as Madonna at the Fountain. This panel honours Mary’s virginity and bears the inscription “ALS IXH CAN.” This translates roughly to Van Eyck’s motto, “As well as I can”. The second work is Saint Barbara of Nicomedia, a detailed drawing that, according to some sources, is the earliest unfinished Netherlandish painted panel in existence.

KMSKA 2022 Facade - (c) Karin Borghouts

To truly experience Jan van Eyck’s mastery, his Ghent Altarpiece at St. Bavo’s Cathedral is essential. However, you can also get an impression of his genius in Antwerp and Bruges. His masterpieces are scattered all over the West, but Flanders will always be his home.

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