Lamb for Sinners Slain (Artful Devotion)

Adoration of the Mystic Lamb (Ghent Altarpiece)
Hubert and Jan van Eyck, Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, 1426–32. Oil on panel, 54 1/5 × 95 3/10 in. (137.7 × 242.3 cm). Lower central interior panel of the Ghent Altarpiece, St. Bavo Cathedral, Ghent, Belgium.

. . . you were ransomed . . . not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

—1 Peter 1:18–22

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SONG: “I Will Praise Him” by Margaret J. Harris, 1898 | Arranged and performed by The Isaacs, on The Isaacs Naturally: An Almost A Cappella Collection, 2009

When I saw the cleansing fountain
Open wide for all my sin,
I obeyed the Spirit’s wooing,
When He said, “Wilt thou be clean?”

I will praise Him! I will praise Him!
Praise the Lamb for sinners slain;
Give Him glory, all ye people,
For His blood can wash away each stain.

Then God’s fire upon the altar
Of my heart was set aflame;
I shall never cease to praise Him:
Glory, glory to His Name!

I will praise Him! I will praise Him!
Praise the Lamb for sinners slain;
Give Him glory, all ye people,
For His blood can wash away each stain.
Glory, glory to His Name!

[Related posts: “Worthy Is the Lamb” (Artful Devotion)”; “No Other Fount (Artful Devotion)”]

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Ghent Altarpiece (open)
Ghent Altarpiece (open view) by Hubert and Jan van Eyck, 1432. Oil on twelve panels, 11 × 15 ft. (3.4 × 4.6 m). St. Bavo Cathedral, Ghent, Belgium.

The monumental Ghent Altarpiece by Northern Renaissance painters Hubert and Jan van Eyck [previously] is one of the world’s finest art treasures—every student who’s taken Art History 101 knows this piece, and it has been the subject of much scholarship.

Perhaps you know it from the detail photos of the recently restored Adoration of the Mystic Lamb panel that went viral in January.

Ghent Altarpiece restoration
Before restoration (left) vs. after restoration (right)

Over the past three years, conservators under the leadership of Belgium’s Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage removed the overpaint that was added to the van Eyck brothers’ original in the mid-sixteenth century, revealing a strikingly humanoid face on the Agnus Dei that surprised everyone. (The rest of the painting is much more naturalistic.) Social media users made fun of the cartoonish appearance of the lamb, but Hélène Dubois, head of restoration, says this lamb has a more “intense interaction with the onlookers.”

The haloed lamb who stands on an altar and bleeds into a chalice is the focal point of the entire fifteen-foot polyptych. He is, of course, a symbol of the self-sacrificial Christ. Angels surround him holding instruments of the passion, and the Latin inscription on the antependium (altar hanging) translates to “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).

Mystic Lamb (detail)

You can zoom in on all the altarpiece panels and take a look at the restoration process (ongoing since 2010, with the upper interior panels to be tackled in 2021) at the Closer to Van Eyck website, which I’ve mentioned before—though the site appears not to have been updated in a while.

If you’d like to learn more, the Google Arts & Culture online exhibition Inside the Ghent Altarpiece is a great place to start, as is the altarpiece’s Wikipedia page. If you prefer to learn audiovisually, you might enjoy these two Smarthistory videos:


This post belongs to the weekly series Artful Devotion. If you can’t view the music player in your email or RSS reader, try opening the post in your browser.

To view all the Revised Common Lectionary scripture readings for the Third Sunday of Easter, cycle A, click here.

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