The central panel of the Ghent Altarpiece is sumptuously decorated with plants and flowers. Visitors are struck by the diversity and realism, with which the Van Eyck brothers painted this flora and fauna.
But the artists did not limit themselves to the unity of time and space. Spring flowers can be seen alongside summer plants, while Mediterranean flowers are combined with plants that can only grow in northern Europe. You will not only see roses, but also daisies and violets blossoming in the soft grass.
Do these flowers and plants also have a symbolic meaning? Where did the Van Eyck brothers pick up this knowledge of botany? Exactly which kinds of flowers and plants are depicted and what purpose did they serve in the days of the Van Eycks?
Some light will be shed on this and other questions at the temporary exhibition entitled Flora.
Ever since its creation in the 15th century, the Mystic Lamb managed to amaze. Its size is grand, its appearance majestic and the richness of colours stunning.
Hubert and Jan Van Eyck are fascinated by the world, but they do not seek to copy it to perfection. They are passionate, curious and experimental, but also full of religious reverence. This layering of meaning can also be seen in the way flowers and plants are depicted.
Painting plants from nature?
From the second half of the 14th century unward, Flemish art became more realistic and naturalistic. Indeed, miniatures and realistic images of flowers adorn breviaries, and equally, the panel painters of that time painted more realistic images of landscapes and flora. However, the Van Eyck brothers were in a league of their own. Where did they pick up this knowledge of botany? As far as the realistic representation of plants in herbal books is concerned, we had to wait until the second quarter of the 16th century until a similar level of portrayal was achieved!
The flora depicted on the Mystic Lamb also includes Mediterranean and southern European species. Among the most notable are Citrus fruits, in addition to Italian cypresses, palms… How did Jan Van Eyck come by such detailed images?
A paradise-like medieval garden full of symbolism
The ‘miraculous garden’, which is displayed on the central panel of the polyptych, is the heavenly paradise which the faithful enter upon their death. The garden depicted on the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb covers a wide variety of plants, but is, above all, a garden full of symbolism. Learn about the typical Maria plants and the symbolism of numbers. And which plants suggest a Jewish influence in the Mystic Lamb?
Visit the Van Eyck-garden
Especially for this exhibition, one of the gardens of the Caermersklooster is decorated with flowers and plants depicted on the Mystic Lamb. The design and the choice of plants have been made by the curator of the Botanical Garden of the Ghent University.