Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Thursday, 30 July 2020

Looking Sheepish?

Yesterday’s MailOnline had a piece about the scientific work of examining the Van Eyck brothers’ Adoration of the Mystic Lamb from the Ghent Altarpiece in connection with its recent restoration. The article and photographs concentrate on the figure of the Angus Dei and how later restorations and repainting subtly changed the face of the Lamb, reducing its humanoid character. The article, with photograph and a video link can be seen at Scientists prove the Lamb of God restoration is correct

The more human quality to the face with its forward stare is slightly more disturbing, more compelling - and that is doubtless as it was intended to be.

The central Adoration of the Mystic Lamb panel. 
The groupings of figures are, from top left anti-clockwise: the male martyrs, the pagan writers and Jewish prophets, the male saints, and the female martyrs.
Image: Wikipedia 

The painting is so well known and so often reproduced that we tend, I suspect, to take it for granted. It is rich in detail and its characterisation of the Heavenly
Host at what does have the quality of a Celestial Garden Party - all very decorous and dignified, with none of the swirling energy with which a Baroque artist would have infused it. It is very much the world of the Burgundian court of Duke Philip the Good. 

Although the Apocalypse has been illustrated many times in manuscript illuminations it appears relatively rarely in a medium such as that used by the Van Eycks.

There is a detailed online account of the whole altarpiece, its history and vicissitudes as well as its iconography, and with an extensive bibliography, from Wikipedia which can be viewed at Ghent Altarpiece

It is perhaps also worthwhile reflecting upon it not just as what it is, a work for devotion and indeed adoration, but also as a link to the 1420s and early 1430s when it was commissioned, designed and created, and to marvel that we can still see and appreciate it.

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