The Ghent Altarpiece is considered by scholars to be one of the most ambitious and complex paintings of the 15th century. Its detailed panels convey its sacred matter with such realism that art historians mark it as the start of the Northern Renaissance. The altarpiece, also known as the “Adoration of the Lamb”, was begun in 1425. The exterior frame of the altarpiece indicates it was started by painter Hubert van Eyck who died before he could finish, and then completed by his brother Jan van Eyck in 1432. The painting was then acquired by a wealthy patron Jodocus Vijd for placement in the Church of Saint John, Ghent, Belgium. The work is an excellent piece of study because the painting is so complex. The panels display a variety of detailed scenes, but the center of the altarpiece is Jesus Christ, the Virgin, and Saint John the Baptist. And below them, a host of saints assembled around the lamb. The masterpiece consists of 24 panels of varying size and shapes aligned two rows so that the 12 panels are visible opened and then 12 panels are visible when the panel is closed. Measuring 11x15 feet and painted in oils the altarpiece can be left open or closed. The pictures themselves are laid out in two tiers. Jan van Eyck used oil paint to create tiny vibrations of light within the saturated colors most of which are symbolic significant. The Ghent Altarpiece was commissioned by the wealthy businessman Jodocus Vijd for his chapel and hence the creation of the masterpiece. The altarpiece represented a “new conception of art”, in which the idealization of the medieval tradition gave way to the observation of nature and a more exact representation of the human being.
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