Hubert and Jan van Eyck's The Ghent Altarpiece by Mary Elizabeth Podles

Column

A Thousand Words

Hubert & Jan van Eyck's The Ghent Altarpiece

The Ghent Altarpiece has been called the most coveted work in all Western art; since its dedication on May 6, 1432, one scholar has tallied thirteen crimes against it, including seven thefts. Early on, the altarpiece escaped the Protestant iconoclasm of the Reformation when it was hidden first in an attic and then in the town hall. During the Napoleonic Wars, it was plundered by the French. It was returned after the Battle of Waterloo, only to have its wings (minus two panels) pawned by the diocese and never redeemed. The wings were subsequently sold to an English collector and then to the King of Prussia. The remainder was damaged by fire in 1822, and a row of panels was lost. What was left was plundered by the Germans during World War I.

The altarpiece was returned in 1920 to Ghent as war reparations. There it remained until 1934, when two panels were stolen. One was returned as a goodwill gesture by the thief; the other is still missing. Theft on a grander scale occurred in 1940. The altarpiece was en route to the Vatican for safekeeping but was impounded by the Vichy French, and subsequently removed to Germany in 1942. There, to its detriment, it was stored in a salt mine. It was discovered and liberated by Allied forces, as detailed (more or less accurately) in the movie Monuments Men.

THIS ARTICLE ONLY AVAILABLE TO SUBSCRIBERS.
FOR QUICK ACCESS:


Mary Elizabeth Podles is the retired curator of Renaissance and Baroque art at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. She and her husband Leon, a Touchstone senior editor, have six children and live in Baltimore, Maryland.


more on art from the online archives

33.2—March/April 2020

Christ Chapel at Hillsdale

An Architectural Sign of Mere Christianity by Michael Ward

32.4—July/August 2019

Sojourner Knight

on Single-Mindedness in Durer's Ritter, Tod, und Teufel by Anthony Costello

30.3—May/June 2017

St. Luke the Evangelist

by Mary Elizabeth Podles

calling all readers

Please Donate

"There are magazines worth reading but few worth saving . . . Touchstone is just such a magazine."
—Alice von Hildebrand

"Here we do not concede one square millimeter of territory to falsehood, folly, contemporary sentimentality, or fashion. We speak the truth, and let God be our judge. . . . Touchstone is the one committedly Christian conservative journal."
—Anthony Esolen, Touchstone senior editor

Support Touchstone

• Not a subscriber or wish to renew your subscription? Subscribe to Touchstone today for full online access. Over 30 years of publishing!


personal subscriptions

Purchase
Online Subscription

Get a one-year full-access subscription to the Touchstone online archives including pdf downloads for only $19.95. That's only $1.66 per month!


RENEW your online subscription

Purchase Print &
Online Subscription

Get six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for only $39.95. That's only $3.34 per month!


RENEW your print/online
subscription

gift subscriptions

GIVE Print &
Online Subscription

Give six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access including pdf downloads for the reduced rate of $29.95. That's only $2.50 per month!


RENEW your gift subscription

Transactions will be processed on a secure server.

bulk subscriptions

Order Touchstone subscriptions in bulk and save $10 per sub! Each subscription includes 6 issues of Touchstone plus full online access to touchstonemag.com—including archives, videos, and pdf downloads of recent issues for only $29.95 each! Great for churches or study groups.

kindle subscription

OR get a subscription to Touchstone to read on your Kindle for only $1.99 per month! (This option is KINDLE ONLY and does not include either print or online.)

Your subscription goes a long way to ensure that Touchstone is able to continue its mission of publishing quality Christian articles and commentary.


more from the online archives

31.1—January/February 2018

Beggars Before Christ

on Taking the Measure of the Deserving & the Undeserving Poor by Martin Bordelon

33.2—March/April 2020

Blessed Peacemakers

Encounters with Faith & Forgiveness in Communities of Faith by Nicole M. King

32.3—May/June 2019

Editing Jesus

on the Implications of Changing the Pater Noster by John M. McCarthy

00