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Ghent altarpiece lamb restored to reveal sassy human face

A few years ago, the over-zealous overpainting of a Spanish fresco left Jesus looking less than saintly. Now, another restoration effort has caught the attention of the general public – and this time the painting is a lot more famous. And while the results aren't as outright horrifying as that poor Spanish Jesus, this renewed artwork would definitely make you look twice (perhaps the creator would have benefitted from our how to draw tutorial roundup?).

The Ghent Altarpiece was painted by brothers Jan and Hubert Van Eyck in the 15th century, and has become one of the most celebrated artworks of its time. Sadly, over the centuries, the priceless 12-panel polyptych has become yellowed, and marred by various touchup efforts from other artists. Notably, the lamb that forms the centerpiece of the entire scene was painted over by a different artist in 1550.

A few years ago, an ambitious, multi-million-dollar restoration, four-year restoration project launched to restore the altarpiece to its former glory. So far, four of the panels have been reworked, and it's the newly unveiled central 'Adoration of the Mystic Lamb' scene that's got people talking. This was the lamb before restoration.

The mystic lamb pre-restoration

The mystic lamb pre-restoration (Image credit: lukasweb.be - Art in Flanders vzw, foto Hugo Maertens)

Admittedly, he's not looking his best self. Below you can see him with his war paint on and ready to hit the barnyard disco. It's important to note here that this isn't an error on the part of the retoucher – this is genuinely what the Van Eycks painted.

The restored lamb

The restored lamb (Image credit: John Thys/AFP)

The Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage is thrilled with the newly restored panels. “There are no words to express the result. Liberated from the thick layers of yellow varnish and the coarser overpaints, we can discover the Van Eycks’ sublime virtuosity in abundance,” reads an article on the intitute's website.

However, the general public is not quite so enamoured with the results. The issue people are taking is that the lamb's face is so human-looking. Here's a roundup of our favourite comments on the restoration.

In the brothers' defence, this was the 15th century and artists were still learning how to paint things realistically back then. It would almost have been more surprising if the lamb hadn't come out looking a little funky. Case in point:

If you think you could do better, or you'd like to have a go at creating your own masterpiece, then don't miss our post on oil painting tips and techniques.

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