Restored Masterpiece Has a Startling New Sheep

Not everyone is pleased with the 'new' Ghent Altarpiece
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 23, 2020 2:17 PM CST
Face Hidden in Masterpiece Emerges, for Better or Worse
A close-up of the "The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb" before its latest restoration.   (Wikimedia)

A renowned work of art looks noticeably different following a yearslong, $2.4 million restoration. And that's not necessarily a good thing in the eyes of critics. A sheep featured prominently in the 12-panel Ghent Altarpiece, completed by Flemish brothers Hubert and Jan Van Eyck in 1432, now has "an alarmingly humanoid face," per Smithsonian. As Art Newspaper explains, however, this isn't the fault of the modern restorers (as opposed to this famous case). It turns out the Van Eyck brothers painted the sheep that way, but restorers came along in the 1500s and touched up the painting. Among other things, they obscured the sheep's face. The modern restoration is now restoring the work's center panel, dubbed "The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb," to its original look.

"I had to catch my breath," says Hélène Dubois, the head of the restoration project, who describes a face of "shocking beauty," per the BBC. Not everyone agrees. One social media user claims "the lamb of the Ghent Altarpiece was a mistake and whoever painted over it was right to do so." ArtNet says the lamb is "just kind of…baaaaa'd," while LiveScience speculates that long-ago restorers "shared the opinions of modern critics who find the lamb's human eyes weird and overly 'confrontational.'" But art critic Jonathan Jones says the reveal only adds to the masterpiece, which is being returned to Belgium's St. Bavo's Cathedral this week for public display. "This lamb is not dumb, as … restorers made it seem," he writes at the Guardian. "Now it is revealed as God, man and sacrifice; a medieval idea painted in a modern and uneasy way." (Read more art restoration stories.)

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