Flanders to subsidize last restoration of Ghent Altarpiece

The third and final restoration phase of Altarpiece by the Van Eyck brothers in St Bavo's Cathedral in Ghent can start with a subsidy of 1.5 million euros from the Flemish government.

"Visitors from all over the world come here to view this work, whose restoration should be finished in the spring of 2026. I hope that surprising elements will once again emerge in the final phase," says Flemish minister for Immovable Heritage Matthias Diependaele (N-VA, Flemish nationalists).

The restoration of the Ghent Altarpiece was started in 2012. The file is now under European tender and the restoration will start at the beginning of 2023 in the Ghent Museum of Fine Arts, where the public can again follow its progress. The previous restoration phases were carried out by the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage.

The final phase includes the three central panels with the enthroned Our Lady, the enthroned Deity and the enthroned John the Baptist.

“An important question is whether the Van Eyck brothers paint God the Father or Jesus Christ in the middle,” says minister Diependaele. "After this final restoration phase, all eighteen panels will be on display for the first time in more than four hundred years as painted by the Van Eyck brothers. The complete restoration of the Ghent Altarpiece is the culmination of years of restoration of the cathedral and the new visitor centre."

"We know that there are many overpaints, but we don't really know what's underneath. As in the previous phases, an international committee of experts will examine the discoveries and issues.”

During the restoration, the panels concerned will be replaced by color photographs and the other panels will remain in St Bavo's Cathedral.

The last phase presents special challenges, says project manager Maaike Blancke of Bressers Architecten. “First of all, the layers of paint are fixed and the varnish removed, and then the overpaints are examined and old retouches and overpaints are removed. Finally, reversible retouches are made at the level of the gaps and the whole is finished with a new varnish. We know that there are many overpaints, but we don't really know what's underneath. As in the previous phases, an international committee of experts will examine the discoveries and issues.”

“The greatest difficulty is the restoration of the press brocades present on the honor cloths of the three figures. Pressed brocades are thin rectangular sheets of tin that are pressed in a mould, creating relief and thus imitating the expensive silk fabrics,” says Blancke. “The side panels of Adam and Eve and the singing and music-making angels also have their own problems. Adam and Eve were largely painted over and the angels were cut in half lengthwise to show the front and back at the same time.”




Flemish minister for Immovable Heritage Matthias Diependaele pictured during a press conference on the third and last restoration phase of the Ghent Altarpiece © BELGA PHOTO JAMES ARTHUR GEKIERE

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