The Ghent Altarpiece is a very famous painting by the Flemish artist Jan van Eyck. It is noted for its incredible complexity, with 12 panels, which are double sided (making the whole altarpiece have 24 paintings in total). Painted in the early 15th century in a similar style to van Eyck's other
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masterpiece, the Arnolfini Portrait, it has had a long and tumultuous history, passing through many hands. It currently resides in the Saint Bavo Cathedral, Ghent.


Top rowEdit

Adam and Eve

Paintings of Adam and Eve, the biblical couple, are in opposite corners of the top row. Almost life-sized, they are both looking ahead at each other. Van Dyck approached this with a groundbreaking form of realism, which offended many. A visiting emperor thought these paintings so offensive that he demanded that they be taken down.

Singing Angels

Next to the images of Adam and Eve respectively are paintings of an angel choir. According to a tile in the scene, they are singing to God to please him. On the right instruments are being played, including a pipe organ and various string instruments. Van Eyck, like in his other paintings, gave his angel figures an open mouth to portray the idea of life and warmth and are deliberately designed to be genderless.


The centre of the upper register contains a typical deësis, a common image in Christianity of Christ holding a book surrounded by the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist. In this version, however, it is unknown if the figure in the centre is actually Christ or another biblical figure such as God. A popular theory is that the figure in the centre is an amalgamation of all of the members of the Holy Trinity - plausible, since there are three tiaras above its head.

Bottom rowEdit

The scene on the bottom row is a continuous panoramic view. A large crowd of people, including popes, kings and saints, are gathering to see the Lamb of God, derived from a Bible verse where Jesus is referred to as the "lamb of God". The lamb is bleeding into a chalice, referencing the sacrifice of Christ and the Holy Grail. It is largely expressionless.

The centre of the picture contains the Fountain of Life, falling into a small pool.

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