Hubert (?) and Jan van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece (open) or The Adoration of the Mystic LambPart 2 - The Ghent Altarpiece Open
We discuss the closed Ghent Altarpiece on the previous page.
Second Life correspondents Max Newbold and Sez Zabelin, discuss the open Ghent Altarpiece (see the previous video for a discussion of the closed altarpiece) on the Vassar campus in Second Life. Unfortunately, it
is not a recreation within the Vijd Chapel in Saint Bavo's cathedral in
Ghent. We start with the recreation so we can show how the altarpiece
opens and closes and so that the listener can get a sense of the scale
of the altarpiece (it measures 11' 5" feet tall). After the introduction in
Second Life, we illustrate our discussion with details that show the altarpiece's magnificence.
Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris, Dr. Steven Zucker
Along the bottom of the Ghent Altarpiece we see a panel entitled The Adoration of the Lamb where we we see a re-creation of the sacrament of Holy Communion (also called the Eucharist). Look closely and you will see a lamb on an altar. The lamb is Christ, who referred to himself as the lamb of God. In other words, like a lamb is sacrificed, Christ was sacrificed for the sins of mankind. The lamb is bleeding into a golden chalice -- another reference to Communion, where the wine is the blood of Christ.
Below the altar is a fountain -- the fountain of eternal life, which flows because of Christ's sacrifice for mankind.
We see that Van Eyck has painted individual blades of grass, and flower petals. Many of the plant here were painted so naturalistically, and with such loving detail, that they are identifiable by species!
A famous art historian once said that Van Eyck had an eye like a microscope and a telescope at the same time!
We can say that the altarpiece is about redemption -- about Christ's sacrifice that saves mankind. On the outside the prophets and sybils who predicted his coming, and the Annunciation which depicts the moment when God is made flesh -- when the world now has the possibility of salvation. And inside we see this theme of sacrifice -- in the pelicans behind God the Faher, and then a symbolic re-enactment of that sacrifice in the Adoration of the Lamb. We learn from the altarpiece that this is all the plan of God the Father enthroned in heaven.
Why did the artists of the Northern Renaissance paint everything wih such clarity? Because the world around us -- everything in it -- is a reflection of God. Here is an important quote from this website:
During the Middle Ages, official doctrine had placed earthly realities on the lowest level of the scale of Creation - if they were not, indeed, the work of the devil himself. However, by the time of the Van Eyck brothers....People began to view the entire world as the work of God, the source of all creation, and present in its every detail, no matter how small and insignificant. Thus nature came to be seen as sacred, as it was a reflection of God's spirit. Where mediaeval art had focussed on a world beyond this world, the new art was devoted to scrupulous observation of what lay before the artist's eyes. Imagination was replaced by attention. Every creature, every thing, was now perceived as a sign - a metaphor - representing a spiritual truth. This vision determined the artist's vocation: to imitate the visible world as faithfully as possible, not merely in order to glorify creation, but so as to reveal the metaphysical dimension that lay concealed within.
Where and When
(now Belgium), 1432