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 . . .

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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.

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more on art from the online archives

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