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Could the Just Judges be hidden in Ghent?

Could the Just Judges be hidden in Ghent?

4 Apr 2014Noah Charney

In his previous blog posts, Noah Charney wrote about the allure of art, his treasure-hunt for the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb (or Ghent Altarpiece) by Van Eyck and the mysteries interwoven with this famous painting.

A Bizarre Theft

Then there are the external mysteries. This painting has been the object of some thirteen crimes over the course of its 600-year existence. Just about anything bad that can happen to a work of art has happened to this painting. It is now back, eleven-twelfths intact, in its city of origin, despite spending more time kidnapped abroad, either wholly or in part, than it has in total in the cathedral of St. Bavo. But one-twelfth of the painting remains missing, a single panel depicting the so-called Just Judges. It was stolen in a bizarre and wonderfully entertaining theft in 1934 and has never been recovered. A strong clue suggests that, at least to begin with, this panel was hidden somewhere in public, where it could not be recovered, even by the thief, without attracting public attention. The cathedral has been combed over thoroughly, even with x-rays, without success. 

Keep Your Eyes Open in Ghent

But as I walk the city, and I note various locations linked to the history of “the Mystic Lamb,” my Treasure-Hunt Instinct kicks in. I see the place where a brave cathedral Canon hid some panels during the First World War. I see the door through which the thieves took the Judges panel that April night in 1934. And I consider the clue, that the panel had been hidden somewhere public. The whole city becomes the playing ground for this treasure hunt. My inner child illuminates inside me, and the whole of the city’s marvelous history, its intriguing architecture, falls open like a puzzle for me to solve. For history is an enormous jigsaw puzzle with most of the pieces missing. It is the role of the historian to fill in, through educated and thoughtful analysis, what likely occupied those missing spaces. In the history of the city’s most famous artwork, there is a literal piece missing. And it is somewhere, waiting to be found. Next time you go to Ghent, keep your eyes peeled. You never know what you might find.

This is the last of a series of blog posts by Noah Charney. Read the other blog posts here:

1. Ghent - City of Treasures
2. Why the Ghent Altarpiece Fires Up the Treasure-Hunt Instinct
3. Why the Ghent Altarpiece Keeps Intruiging Us

Noah Charney