Date: January 22, 2020 01:10AM
A restoration of one of the world’s most famous paintings has been described as “a shock for everybody” after it revealed a depiction of a sheep with extremely human-like eyes.
The Ghent Altarpiece, completed by Hubert and Jan van Eyck in 1432, is a 15th-century masterpiece in St Bavo’s Cathedral in Belgium, widely considered to be the first major artwork to use oil paint.
For centuries, its central panel – titled Adoration of the Mystic Lamb – featured a demure sheep (the Lamb of God) being sacrificed on an altar as a representation of Jesus Christ.
The sheep was painted over by a different artist in 1550, but a multi-million-dollar restoration has now revealed the original, startling face of the titular ovine.
Described by the Smithsonian Magazine as “alarmingly humanoid”, the new Ghent lamb now sports larger, more vibrant eyes and a more detailed, flared pink nose.
Unlike other art restorations, such as the infamous botched Ecce Homo (also known as Monkey Christ), the Ghent lamb has in fact been professionally restored to how it originally looked.
The head of restoration, Hélène Dubois, described the unveiled face as “cartoonish” and “a shock for everybody” in an interview with The Art Newspaper.
“Nothing like this had ever been observed on early Netherlandish painting,” Dubois said.
Curators from Belgium’s Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage used surgical scalpels and microscopes to remove old paint “centimetre by centimetre”, over three years, to reveal the original sheep.
“There are no words to express the result,” they said in a statement on the royal institute’s website. “Liberated from the thick layers of yellow varnish and the coarser overpaints, we can discover the Van Eycks’ sublime virtuosity in abundance.”