Jan van Eyck, The Ghent Altarpiece, Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, 1432
Cathedral of Saint Bavo, Ghent
This is one of the most ambitious and grand pieces of art from the Middle Ages—and also the most stolen piece of art in history. It was even apprehended and housed for years in an underground mine by Hitler (and later recovered, as chronicled in George Clooney’s 2014 movie The Monuments Men).
The altarpiece itself is a massive (the Adam and Eve figures are nearly life-size) and dramatic presentation of the culmination of the Christian story—the wedding feast of the Lamb, Christ’s wedding to His Bride, the Church. This is where the salvation of God’s people is fully and finally realized as they become one with Christ for eternity. Adam and Eve, who facilitated our initial separation from God, look from the upper-most left and right panels upon the grand celebration taking place below in the center.
The large bottom panel* of this famous polyptych invites us to imagine what the wedding feast of the Lamb might be like. The Holy Spirit, signified by the dove at the top center, illuminates and blesses the celebration. Streaming in—from literally the four corners of the earth—are the redeemed of God. As the Bride of the Lamb, they approach the Bridegroom, who is standing at the altar awaiting them. This beautiful scene is literally what all of history—HIS story—has been pointing to. It provides the answer to Gauguin’s third question: “Where are we going?”