Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Adoration of the Lamb, by Jan Van Eyck

'Adoration of the Lamb', by Jan Van Eyck, is the lower central panel from his Ghent Altarpiece

Hailed as "the first evolved landscape in European painting" by Kenneth Clark, 'Adoration of the Lamb' by Jan Van Eyck is a masterpiece that reveals much about the spirit of the day in late medieval Europe. There was a distinctly sweaty-lipped drive to tame the wanton strumpet of Nature at every turn, and we can see it reflected here in the landscape behind the lamb.

There's nothing less Godly than an untidy wilderness
The Church at the top of the hill, overlooking its kingdom
"Looking at the Tuscan landscape with its terraces of vines and olives and the dark vertical accents of the cypresses, one has the impression of timeless order. There must have been a time when it was all forest and swamp - shapeless, formless; and to bring order out of chaos is a process of civilization".

Check out the detail in the embossed damask pattern
"Since Giorgione first mythologized Arcadia by showing us naked women in an idealized landscape, we have been captured by the comforting illusion that nature is a mirror of human perfection."

The "pastoral fallacy" had inspired Theocritus and Virgil (who seems to have made an appearance in this panel dressed in white), and might have it's roots even further back: Pre-Historic man is said to have been subject to a vision of paradise genetically encoded as "The Savannah Hypothesis". It's a fascinating theory that suggests that we respond to this kind of landscape because it most closely resembles our old hunting grounds as knuckle-dragging simians.

You could even make the argument that artificial landscapes from stately homes to our lowly city parks are designed according to this same theory: visible water sources, easily navigable pathways, open vistas and vantage points (for hunting) and reference markers (so we don't get lost) were all necessary for survival for hundreds of thousands of generations.

All photos this article, source: 'Closer To Van Eyck' Project

Detail from lower right panel

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the rich details, Alan. I find the very solid and distinct groupings of people interesting; I keep looking at the painting to find four different classes (of some sort) but don't see it. The figures in the upper right, though, seem more representative of purity ...