Lamb of God restored in world’s first oil painting – and it’s terrifying

Artists have used the lamb as a symbol for Jesus Christ for centuries.

One significant example of this is The Ghent Altarpiece. The Renaissance masterpiece in St Bavo’s Cathedral in Belgium is thought to be the first true oil painting.

Completed by brothers Hubert and Jan van Eyck in 1432, it was altered 120 years later by another artist and it is that work that has been reproduced in books about the history of art for many years.

But now, the 600-year-old painting has been restored to its original state as part of a three year, €2.2m (£1.8 million) project.

And it’s horrifying.

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Some of the restoration work revealed lost details: Removing a blue hill that had been added on the horizon revealed a trio of miniature buildings in the style of Medieval Ghent.

But the face of the Lamb of God, as depicted on the altar piece’s central panel – titled Adoration of the Mystic Lamb has changed from a fairly realistic sheep’s head to am “alarmingly humanoid” portrait of a strange hybrid sheep-man.

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Hélène Dubois, the head of the restoration project, told The Art Newspaper that the original face was “cartoonish” and ““a shock for everybody—for us, for the church, for all the scholars, for the international committee following this project.”

“Nothing like this had ever been observed on early Netherlandish painting,” she added.

The fact that there was a layer of original varnish between the original work and the 1550 modifications means that it was comparatively straightforward to restore the painting to the painters’ original intent.

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But lots of people think it shouldn’t have been done.

Rosie Ann Leigh on Twitter asked “Is that sheep pouting?” while Helios simply said “Satanic.”

Another Twitter user pointed out that Jan van Eyck, despite being officially an Old Master, wasn’t that good at faces.

She posted a detail from his celebrated work The Arnolfini Marriage and asked: “Are we going to act like every face human or animal that Van Eyck ever painted wasn’t just as horrifying? Because this face is nightmare fuel.”

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