Priceless oil painting ‘ruined’ by repairs

Baaaad: This lamb, the focus of the painting, now has very human eyes!

One of the world’s most famous paintings has been carefully restored by experts to look as it would have looked when it was new, 600 years ago. But many experts think it has been spoilt.

What’s happening

Belgium’s Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage thought it would be a moment of triumph.

After painstaking work by restorers using surgical scalpels and microscopes, The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb by Hubert and Jan van Eyck, could be shown to the world again.

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But expert reaction to the restoration was one of shock and disbelief.

The lamb at the centre of the 15th-Century altarpiece – representing Jesus Christ – now seems to have what one critic called “alarmingly” human eyes. Even the head restorer, Hélène Dubois, admits that it looks “cartoonish”.

Plenty of other restorations have hit the headlines for the wrong reasons. A painting in a Spanish church was nicknamed “The Monkey Christ” after a clumsy local artist worked on it, while a statue of the baby Jesus in Canada was compared to Maggie in the Simpsons when a sculptor gave it a new head.

Does repairing old paintings and artworks really tend to make them ugly?

Some say…

No. Some people say that it is essential to restore works of art if we are to appreciate them fully. Centuries of dust and pollution can spoil a painting’s original colours and hide some details altogether – so can the varnish that was supposed to protect it.

Others think…

Yes. Others argue that paintings often deteriorate because they were badly restored in earlier times by people using crude techniques. We may have more advanced methods now but, in years to come, problems could emerge with those too. By the time a work of art needs restoration, the artist will probably be dead, so no one can be sure exactly how it was supposed to look.

You Decide

  1. Is there any point to paintings when we can capture things so easily in photographs?

Activities

  1. Design a picture summing up a day at your school.

Some People Say...

“Nothing is a real masterpiece until it’s about 200 years old.”

What do you think?

Word Watch

Triumph
A great achievement.
Painstaking
Done with great care.
Surgical scalpels
A special kind of knife used by doctors, particularly surgeons.
Hubert and Jan van Eyck
Flemish painters Hubert (died 1426) and Jan (around 1390-1441) van Eyck were brothers who founded the early Netherlandish school of painting.
Expert reaction
In this instance, the response by people who work in the art world.
Altarpiece
An artwork, like a painting or sculpture, representing a religious subject, for placing behind the altar of a Christian church.
Jesus Christ
Also called the “Lamb of God” in the Gospel of John in the Bible.
Varnish
A clear, hard protective finish.
Deteriorate
Get worse.
Crude
Basic, rough.

Subjects

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