Book Series Contributions to the Study of the Flemish Primitives, vol. 14

The Ghent Altarpiece

Research and Conservation of the Exterior

Bart Fransen, Cyriel Stroo (eds)

  • Pages: x + 430 p.
  • Size:220 x 280 mm
  • Language(s):English
  • Publication Year:2020

  • ISBN: 978-2-930054-38-4
  • Hardback
  • Available


"It is undoubtedly an essential resource for scientists and conservators; however, I also urge art historians to read it cover to cover. It approaches the Ghent Altarpiece foremost from a material perspective, but also answers art historical questions in the context of its history of display, interventions, and conservation."
 (Abbie Vandivere, in Historians on Netherlandish Art, October 2020)



The outer panels of the Ghent Altarpiece had been overpainted to a considerable extent. The virtuosity of the Eyckian technique and aesthetics remained hardly visible. And yet, this had never been observed before the start of the conservation treatment.

By removing the overpaint, the tonal richness and the coherent rendering of light and space once again came to the fore. Especially the suggestion of volumes and the spaciousness of the ensemble gained strength because of the virtuoso play of deep shadows and bright light accents, and not in the least because of the surprising trompe-l'oeil effect of the frames conceived as a stone framework.

Or to put it in the words of the comments of one of the experts, dr. Maryan Ainsworth: The paintings live and breathe again in the time of the Van Eyck brothers. The sharp observation skills, the quick, accurate execution, the knowledge, curiosity and ingenuity about all the things that are depicted, are now unveiled after centuries. The profit for the knowledge of and further research into the essence of Eyckian aesthetics is considerable. And finally there is the discovery that the much-discussed quatrain was applied simultaneously with the polychromy of the frames: a real 'coup de foudre' in the discourse of the current art-historical research!

The subtleties of the Eyckian technique could also be mapped out in more detail. How the Van Eycks managed to keep the final result and the desired effect in mind during every phase of the execution, from imprimatura to finishing touch. The artists made a statement about the art of painting, giving ‘technique’ as such a new prominence. The Ghent Altarpiece may be understood at some point as a major showpiece for a highly sophisticated pictorial technique.

We hope that this publication of the results of the research and conservation campaign on the exterior of the altarpiece can help future researchers to ask better questions. Questions, and answers, that may produce a more balanced picture of Van Eyck's techniques, methods and materials.

In the second volume, ( new hypotheses are proposed here regarding the division of labour between the two Van Eyck brothers.



Ludo Collin

Hilde De Clercq, Christina Ceulemans

Maximiliaan Martens, Christina Ceulemans, Ron Spronk, Anne van Grevenstein-Kruse

Transformations in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries
Hélène Dubois

Frames and Support: Technique and Structural Treatment
Jochen Ketels, Jean-Albert Glatigny, Anne-Sophie Augustyniak

Paint and Polychromy: Chemical Investigation of the Overpaints
Jana Sanyova, Geert Van der Snickt, H Koen Janssens, Peter Vandenabeele

Conservation and Restoration Treatment

The Painted Surface
Livia Depuydt-Elbaum, Fran

The Frames: In Search of Lost Unity
Anne-Sophie Augustyniak, Laure Mortiaux

The Van Eycks' Creative Process

The Paintings: from (Under)drawing to the Final Touch in Paint
Marie Postec, Griet Steyaert

The Frames: an Exceptional Polychromy
Anne-Sophie Augustyniak, Laure Mortiaux, Jana Sanyova

The Authenticity of the Quatrain and the other Frame Inscriptions
Susan Frances Jones, Anne-Sophie Augustyniak, Hélène Dubois

Imagining the Original Display
Bart Fransen, Jean-Albert Glatigny

Restoring in the Public Eye
Bart Devolder

Epilogue: Implications and Perspectives
Cyriel Stroo, Maximiliaan Martens



Photography before and after Treatment
Stéphane Bazzo, Jean-Luc Elias, Katrien Van Acker

Inscriptions on the Exterior
Susan Frances Jones, Marc H. Smith

The Quatrain: a New Reconstruction
Marc H. Smith, Susan Frances Jones, Anne-Sophie Augustyniak

Dimensions of Frames and Supports
Jochen Ketels, Jean-Albert Glatigny, Anne-Sophie Augustyniak

The Ghent Altarpiece: a Bibliography
Dominique Deneffe, Jeroen Reyniers

Project Participants
Photographic Acknowledgements
Index of Names
Index of Works of Art