This “Once-in-a-Lifetime Exhibit” Includes the Most Stolen Artwork Ever

A blockbuster exhibition of Jan van Eyck’s work marks the first—and in some cases, the last—time to see some of his masterpieces in one place.

This “Once-in-a-Lifetime Exhibit” Includes the Most Stolen Artwork Ever

“Van Eyck: An Optical Illusion” is on view at the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent, Belgium, through April 30, 2020.

Photo by Hugo Maertens, courtesy of © - Art in Flanders vzw

Even if you don’t know the name Jan van Eyck, you’ve likely seen some of his famed oil paintings, which are among the world’s most sought-after artworks. The early 15th-century Flemish painter is regarded as one of the most significant representatives of Northern Renaissance art, known for his role in shaping Netherlandish painting (characterized by advanced oil painting techniques and detailed altarpiece art). Today, there are only approximately 20 surviving works by the famous Flemish artist—13 of which are currently on view at the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent, Belgium, as part of a landmark exhibition titled Van Eyck: An Optical Illusion (running through April 30, 2020).

Spread out over 13 halls within the Flemish museum, Van Eyck: An Optical Illusion, marks the first time that many of van Eyck’s masterpieces have been on display, featuring rare, recovered works by the artist, such as The Portrait of Baudouin de Lannoy (1435) and The Madonna at the Fountain (1439).

The showcase, dubbed by curators as a “once-in-lifetime exhibition,” will also likely be the last time some of van Eyck’s works are exhibited in one place—specifically, 8 of the 12 original panels from The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb (1432), which are on display as part of the exhibit. This famous oil painting by Jan van Eyck and his older brother, Hubert, is also known as the Ghent Altarpiece, and as the center of repeated dismantlings and lootings throughout its history (most notably by the Nazis), it’s considered the most stolen artwork of all time.


The exhibit includes the outer panels of “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” from the 1432 altarpiece that’s considered the largest and most important surviving work by brothers Hubert and Jan Van Eyck.

Courtesy of © - Art in Flanders vzw

The Ghent museum exhibition also includes illustrations and sculptures from the artist’s studio and more than 100 works by the Flemish painter’s Italian contemporaries, such as Fra Angelico, Paolo Uccello, Pisanello, Masaccio, and Benozzo Gozzoli, who worked with the egg-based tempera medium in contrast to van Eyck, who painted in oils.

According to the exhibit description, very little is known about van Eyck’s life and career. Archival documents point toward his birth near Maastricht (in modern Holland) around 1390, and it’s thought that he began his career in Bruges in 1425 as a court painter to the Duke of Burgundy. And while much of van Eyck’s story continues to be somewhat of a mystery, his artistic genius is not: According to the Museum of Fine Arts’s website, the largest-ever exhibition of the Flemish artist’s work, which opened at the start of February, is already sold out for several days throughout March. If you want to see the exhibition for yourself, you should definitely snag your tickets online soon.

Van Eyck: An Optical Illusion runs through April 30, 2020, at the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent. The exhibition is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Monday, Friday, and Saturday; from 10:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday; from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Wednesday; and from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets cost approximately $29 when bought in advance online, and $32 at the museum.

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