Thursday, 1 March 2012

Van Eyck in detail: The Ghent Altarpiece

The Mystic Lamb of 1432 by Hubert and Jan van Eyck, known as the Ghent Altarpiece, recently underwent emergency conservation within the Villa Chapel in St. Bavo Cathedral in Ghent.
Every inch  of the altarpiece was scrutinized and professionally photographed at extremely high resolution in both normal and infrared light.
The photographs were then digitally “stitched” together to create highly detailed images which allow for study of the painting at unprecedented microscopic levels. The website itself contains 100 billion pixels. These high-definition digital images are now available on an interactive digital website, “Closer to Van Eyck: Rediscovering the Ghent Altarpiece”
The website features overall photographs of the polyptych in its opened and closed positions, and from there users can zoom closer into the details of individual panels of the altarpiece, down to a microscopic level.  Scrolling and zooming features are guided by a thumbnail image to indicate the location and size of the detail on the altarpiece. Users are also able to open two windows simultaneously to compare any two images from the site.

This project, funded by the Getty Foundation ran from April 2010 through June 2011 and consisted of three main segments: an urgent conservation treatment, an assessment of the current condition of the altarpiece, and a campaign of technical documentation. Its goal was to establish whether a full restoration treatment of Van Eyck’s famous polyptych was necessary in the near future, which indeed turned out to be the case.

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