Detail of the Ghent Altarpiece ©

The Ghent Altarpiece – Research and Conservation

Conservation carried out of the Gent Altarpiece since 2012 have revealed major overpainting covering the the original work of Jan and Hubert van Eyck. New book tells the story

The Ghent Altarpiece: Research and Conservation of the Exterior
Eds. By B. Fransen, C. Stroo
Series: Contributions to the Study of the Flemish Primitives vol 14.
Brepols 2020


Ghent Altarpiece book coverThe 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.


  • Restoration of the Ghent Altarpiece ©
    Restoration of the Ghent Altarpiece ©

    Foreword Ludo Collin

  • Preface Hilde De Clercq, Christina Ceulemans
  • Introduction 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


Closer to Van Eyck

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