It is now possible to zoom into the intricate, breathtaking details of one of the most important works of art in the world, thanks to a newly completed website focused on the Ghent Altarpiece.
A stunning and highly complex painting composed of separate oak panels, The Mystic Lamb of 1432 by Hubert and Jan van Eyck, known as the Ghent Altarpiece, recently underwent much-needed emergency conservation within the Villa Chapel in St. Bavo Cathedral in Ghent. As part of this work, the altarpiece was removed from its glass enclosure and temporarily dismantled—a rare event which also made it possible to undertake a comprehensive examination and documentation, supported by the Getty Foundation in Los Angeles.
Each centimeter of the altarpiece was scrutinized and professionally photographed at extremely high resolution in both regular and infrared light. The photographs were then digitally “stitched” together to create highly detailed images which allow for study of the painting at unprecedented microscopic levels. The website itself contains 100 billion pixels.
Thanks to a grant from the Getty Foundation, these high-definition digital images are now available on an interactive digital website, “Closer to Van Eyck: Rediscovering the Ghent Altarpiece” where for the first time in the Ghent Altarpiece’s history, viewers may peek under the work’s paint surfaces by means of infrared reflectography (IRR) and x-radiography to study the van Eycks’ genius in unparalleled microscopic magnification. Taken together, this body of documentation represents an invaluable archive for scholars, conservators, and art lovers worldwide.
The website features overall photographs of the polyptych in its opened and closed positions, and from there users can zoom closer into the details of individual panels of the altarpiece, down to a microscopic level. Scrolling and zooming features are guided by a thumbnail image to indicate the location and size of the detail on the altarpiece. Users are also able to open two windows simultaneously to compare any two images from the site, enabling more viewers to interactively study the Ghent Altarpiece and the artists’ techniques in ways that have never before been possible.
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Direct to “Closer to Van Eyck: Rediscovering the Ghent Altarpiece” (via Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage, Belgium)