I’m in Belgium for three days. Two days in Ghent and one in Brugge.
The first day I was walking through the streets of Ghent – a town in the Flemish part of Belgium.
Little rain was drizzling from the sky… me with a slight hangover, thinking that this place might be very nice in summer… I’d like to write about this charming historic town but what to write when the weather doesn’t really make the city attractive?
We ended the day in a restaurant and called it a night quite early.
Day two: Me & The City again. What to do? My arty nature directs my steps towards two places this day: the Sint-Baafskathedraal (St. Bavo’s Cathedral) and the Museum door Schone Kunst (Museum of fine Arts). At that time not knowing what surprises that day will bring and how those two places are connected with each other.
First I spent a few hours in the museum (MSK). As usual, whenever in an art museum, I was feeling total peace of mind and happiness – but there was an even nicer surprise still to come at the end of my visit. I started my circle from the left, moving clockwise. The circle leading me to gallery number 4 where I heard voices… I thought‚ „oh no why are people talking so loud in a gallery? How inconsiderate of other visitors” … but then I realized it’s a guide’s voice, so my next thought was „oh no a school class” and I turned away to visit other galleries. Thank got I always make sure that I see EVERYTHING when in an art gallery and so eventually I ended up in room number 4. The end of my visit revealed a great surprise – a room where behind a glass window the visitor can witness the reconstruction works on an art piece. I was amazed! Standing still and staring at the four restorers and at the paintings…
When I was young(er) there was a time in my life where I dreamed of a job as a restorer of famous historic paintings of grand masters like Leonardo or Raphael. Until now I saw restorers only on TV. Wow!
I stood and loved what I saw…without knowing what painting I am admiring…
Then I left and visited the Cathedral, again not knowing what I was about to discover when back at my laptop. The Cathedral was nice but I didn’t find anything special on my visit. Since it was getting towards evening and the place was quite empty I didn’t notice the little ticket box in the corner…
So the surprise hit me when back to the hotel, I googled the MSK in research of some hints and pictures of the ‚magic room’ I just saw. And what I read was: ‚come and visit the restoration of The Ghent Altarpiece, the masterpiece by the Van Eyck brothers’. It is the ‚The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’, the Polyptych from 1432, commonly referred to as the Ghent Altarpiece I just saw in the hands of the restorers!
Reading further I discovered that it’s a seven-year-long restoration project carried out from 2012 to 2019. The Cathedral, the Museum of Fine Arts (MSK) and the Provincial centre for culture Caermersklooster are joining forces to tell the story of this masterpiece.
According to Bart Devolder, member of the restoration team of the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage it’s ‚the best painting in the world’. He explained that given the history it is a miracle that almost all the parts ended in the Cathedral again. The Altarpiece which is considered a milestone in art history survived the Protestant Iconoclasm, fell into French hands under Napoleon and was requisitioned by Nazi Germany during the Second World War. For more than fifty years it has now been hanging peacefully in St. Bavo’s Cathedral (only the ‚Just Judges’ panel which was stolen in 1934, is replaced by a reproduction). Therefore the restoration project was initially treated with secrecy and caution.
Apparently the painting was always clouded in mystery and so even now the restoration team made some intriguing revelations, finding cobwebs above the head of one of the figures in the painting as well as an unidentified face in the air, hidden under the artists original layers of paint. What else is to be revealed? What is the genesis behind the masterpiece and it’s turbulent history?
More I was reading, more the story of this painting was taking me in. I learned that while you can see the four restorers working on the panels in the MSK you can also admire two-thirds of the original work on display in the St. Bavo’s Cathedral! Oh My God…That box in the corner of the church…!
Guess where I went back the next day before heading off to Brugge?!
And there behind the box, in a small dark room, there it was just in front of me – the masterpiece. It was spectacular to admire it and listen to the story from the audio guide.
The panels which I saw the day before in the hands of the restorers are replaced by black and white replicas.
Best spent 4 euro in a long time! Very recommendable (you can even get the combo ticket which includes the three places of the restoration).