Thousands of people would have been travelling to see one of the year’s artistic highlights, had it not been for this pandemic. The Ghent Altarpiece, breathtaking after its restoration, was to have been on show in the city’s cathedral. Now the doors are locked.
Completed by the Van Eyck brothers in 1432, on panels that fold back to reveal the central scene, the altarpiece daringly attempts to convey the full content of the days culminating in Easter: the Christian belief in Jesus giving his life to save the world, and in his resurrection and undying life in heaven, interceding for all mankind.
Glorious as the panels are in details of eyes and hair, and draperies and bright metal, the meaning of the pictures is not so easy to appreciate. Why a lamb? Christians do not worship animals.
Here Jesus is not represented historically as crucified, but symbolically as the Lamb. This is no newborn cuddly little thing. It stands sturdily on an altar with a red frontal embroidered in letters of gold: Ecce Agnus Dei … “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Those were John the Baptist’s words introducing Jesus to his followers. In the painting, a dove representing the Holy Spirit descends from heaven, as John the Baptist witnessed, and, on a panel above, a throned figure stands for God the Father.
On neighbouring panels of angels singing, the Van Eycks painted in perspective floor tiles featuring the emblem of the Lamb and flag, linking the declaration by John the Baptist and the mystical role of Jesus Christ.
T三级成人视频here is a lot going on in the Van Eycks’ painting. Before the altar, two angels swing incense thuribles in an act of worship. Behind the altar, more angels hold a cross, a lance, a sponge of vinegar on a long rod. These are among the so-called instruments of the Passion, objects that went with Jesus’s death.
In the foreground, the artists have put a fountain of fresh water, running out towards the viewer through the flower-sown grass. From the side of the Lamb blood spurts into a chalice, representing both the death that Jesus suffered and the life-giving sacrament of the Eucharist, which makes every day that it is celebrated a new Easter day.
This is all about the beliefs of Christianity. The painting cannot be understood without them. But what has it to say to those who do not share those beliefs? One approach was suggested by the Queen in Sunday’s moving message to the nation. “Many people of all faiths, and of none,” she said, discover that isolation “presents an opportunity to slow down, pause and reflect, in prayer or meditation”.
The Van Eycks’ imagined scene might be a focus for meditation. Its flowering trees and green hills receding into blue belong to a world that is not ours. We are cooped up, or left lonely, though the spring sun and quietness are a blessing to many.
I三级成人视频f the Ghent Altarpiece represents a world that is saved, what is it saved from? Sin and death, its painters might answer. Sin would not mean being naughty-but-nice. It would mean rejecting the original paradise of Eden (as did its first custodians Adam and Eve, shown restored to life on panels of the altarpiece). It would mean murder (Cain killing Abel being shown on another panel). In the earthly world this morning, plenty of inexcusable wars continue, killing far more than this virus.
The Van Eycks’ mystic vision, made real in paint, shows Easter as a fresh world brought into being by self-sacrificing love. Every tired nurse, every fraught mother, every isolated pensioner stands with the innocent lamb for a better world where we will meet again.