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Hidden in the last line is a chronogram consisting of red letters, which gives the date 1432. However, as an X-ray examination in 1950 showed, the inscription was probably applied later. Investigations in the course of the recent restoration of the altar, which has been ongoing since 2012, have shown that the inscription was written directly on the first version of the frame, contrary to previous assumptions, and could therefore be original after all. On the basis of this inscription, art historians have long tried to separate Hubert's part from Jan's in the Ghent altar. In 1979, Van Asperen de Boer used infrared reflectography to get to the bottom of the cult of Hubert. The signature on the altar unmistakably shows only one handwriting, namely that of Jan van Eyck. In his 1995 study of the Ghent Altarpiece, Volker Herzner was able to prove that Hubert died completely impoverished, that not a single work of his has survived and that the relationship to Jan is more than questionable.

Hubert (Huybrecht) van Eyck (* c. 1375; † 18 September 1426) was a Flemish painter and the older brother of Jan van Eyck, also a painter. Very little is known about Hubert's life; all that is known for certain is that he enrolled in the religious "Society of Mary with the Rays" in Ghent in 1421-1422. Hubert van Eyck achieved great fame through the inscription on the frame of the Ghent altar. It reads: "The painter Hubert van Eyck, there was no greater, began this work and his brother Johann, the second in this art, completed the difficult task on behalf of Judocus Vijd. By these verses he entrusts to your care that which came into being on May 6."


Hubert van Eyck


Oil on panel, 375,0 x 520,0 cm (open) Festtagsseite
 St. Bavo Cathedral, Ghent, Belgium
 © Lukas – Art in Flanders VZW / Bridgeman Images

2 | Ghent Altarpiece-Adoration of the Mystic Lamb (Het Lam Gods) Genter Altar, 1432



Nils Büttner sees the motives for the addition of the inscription in the local patriotism of 16th century Ghent. For Jan van Eyck came from Bruges and was therefore not from Ghent, while Hubert, who happened to have the same name, was documented as a Ghent painter. Ghent and Bruges had always been in competition. It was popular among humanist scholars to celebrate their own hometown with a praise of the city. Of course, it was not acceptable that the city's most famous work of art had been created by a foreigner. Because Hubert van Eyck's name had been handed down in Ghent, he was unceremoniously made the brother of Jan van Eyck and placed before the foreign Jan. The specific occasion - always according to Büttner's hypothesis - was the assembly of the Order of the Golden Fleece in Ghent's St. Bavo's Cathedral in 1559, for which the church was decorated. At that time, a poem praising Hubert van Eyck as the master of the altar was placed in the chapel where the Ghent altar stood.

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