The Ghent Altarpiece

Better late than never! This is my travelog about Ghent, Belgium where we saw The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, the most impressive work to come out of the Northern Renaissance. It was also Adolph Hitler’s most coveted work for his Führer Museum in Linz, Austria, which was never built.

I learned all this reading The Monuments Men about the Allied military units who tracked down and saved the artwork the Nazis stole across Europe. It’s a fascinating book and I highly recommend you read the book and DO NOT watch George Clooney’s schlocky, atrocious and almost completely fictional film adaptation. The most impressive thing about the story in my mind was the fact that, for the first time in human history, an invading army protected and returned artwork rather than willfully destroying or plundering.

The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb by Jan and Hubert Van Eyck
The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb by Jan and Hubert Van Eyck

In person, the altarpiece is astounding, tucked away behind heavy glass in a closed-off alcove of St. Bavo Cathedral (which is impressive on its own). I would have liked to stay a long time examining every inch of it. It is the type of painting that makes me feel like a child again, getting lost in a picture book. It tells a wonderfully elaborate story with a host of characters, angels, and exquisitely-painted figures. This may seem funny, but sometimes my favorite part of a painting is a peaceful, verdant meadow or garden in the background. The luminous skies running the length of the bottom panels and repeated in the angels’ panels above are truly heavenly.

eyck-ghent-fountain
Source Image: Smarthistory
eyck-ghent-garden
Source Image: Smarthistory

Ghent may not be high on anyone’s list when there are so many other cities to visit in Europe, but I certainly recommend it. In addition to the painting, there was plenty to see and plenty of beer to drink (the main attraction for my husband!)

A couple of places I highly recommend: The Dulle Griet for beer and Bridge Brasserie for food.

The Dulle Griet is a fascinating little hole in the wall decorated with old cartwheels, banners, and kinda-creepy marionettes. It has scores of Trappist beers to try and a unique tradition: If you order a “yard of beer” in an elegant, tall flask, you must give up a shoe until you are finished with it. I guess this discourages theft of the glasses.  When we were there, all night, we saw boots and shoes dropped on the bar or stashed in a basket that was lowered and then pulled up when someone would ring a bell. (It took us a little while to figure out what was really going on!)

The Bridge is a very fine restaurant that serves a Ghent specialty known as Waterzooi, a stew of chicken or fish and vegetables, which is absolutely delicious with fresh rolls and a light beer.

One of the beers we tried at Dulle Griet.
One of the beers we tried at Dulle Griet.

Here are a few more pictures to give you a feel of this beautiful medieval city.

St Bavo Square at night
St Bavo Square at night
The old bell tower.
The old bell tower by day.
View from the tower.
View from the tower.
Saint Bavo Square
Saint Bavo Square
Mmm... the waffles were so good!
Mmm… the waffles were so good!

IMG_2208

The Castle of the Counts. There was an exhibit of medieval torture and punishment in here.
The Castle of the Counts. There was an exhibit of medieval torture and punishment in here.
Belgian Beer
That’s right!
I just loved this fountain of a dog chasing ducks.
I just loved this fountain of a dog chasing ducks.
Beautiful canals in the background.
Beautiful canals in the background.

GhentBelgium

Hope you enjoyed this little tour and hope it inspires you to seek out this and other hidden European gems! Next I would love to go to Bruges to see  Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna, which also figured prominently in The Monuments Men.

How about you? What masterpieces do you have on your bucket list?

 

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8 thoughts on “The Ghent Altarpiece

  1. Ghent looks lovely! I would love to see the altarpiece. I unfortunately saw the movie version of The Monuments Men, and while it was pretty horrible, it did make me want to learn more of the real story. The book is on my list now. I would also love to trade in my shoe for a yard of beer – what fun!

    Lesley

    1. The book is pretty interesting and, unlike the movie, gives you an appreciation for the thankless work of restoration, archiving, and the detective work that went into finding all the stolen artwork. Perhaps not as glamourous as your typical Hollywood war movie, but I think it’s a lot more fascinating. I was happy to leave the yard of beer to those younger and more agile than me. It’s a lot of beer, and it looked a little hard to drink out of those slender flasks! 🙂

  2. How fun to see such a historic piece in person! And the rest of the city is beautiful as well. Love the shoes/yard of beer story 🙂

  3. Ghent is a very pretty town! The town square is charming 🙂 Lucky you for seeing that masterpiece in person! The waffles remind me of when I briefly lived in Brussels. Delicious! Looks like it was an all around memorable city trip 🙂

    p.s. thank you so much for commenting on my blog post recently. I think Köln is great, however, my heart belongs to Düsseldorf…:)

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