Wat vertellen de broers Van Eyck in hun schilderij De Aanbidding van het Lam Gods?

The patrons of The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb did not order art for the sake of art. They asked the Van Eyck brothers to paint an altarpiece that would give the people of their time hope while encouraging them to pray. The result is a visual puzzle full of references to the Bible. Especially to the final book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation. In the Christian 15th century, these references were fairly commonly known. But can we still decipher them today? The central message is that a defenseless lamb conquers all evil in the world. That lamb is Jesus Christ. The story of Jesus begins with an angel announcing His birth to virgin mother Mary. God Himself becomes human to show what it means to be fully human. The Van Eyck brothers situate this cosmic event in Ghent in a 15th-century interior overlooking the Kortedagsteeg. The altarpiece has a completely different color palette on the inside. Festive colors. In the past, it was only opened on religious holidays. Two stories are told here. One with large figures and one with smaller ones. Christ is central to both stories. But the difference is striking. At the top we see all human history summarized in a few images. It starts with Adam and Eve. In the second generation, history is marked by fratricide. It is no different today. Humankind abuses its freedom. Evil gets free rein. At the end of days, Christ appears as a powerful king. Conqueror and judge at the same time. The lower section tells the story of how victory is achieved. Paradoxically, it is not through power and struggle, but through the utter powerlessness of a sacrificed lamb. It is a biblical image. In Judaism, the slaughtered lamb stood for the inability to live in union with God and a longing for reconciliation. With the crucifixion of Jesus, God sacrifices himself. He loves people so much that He gives himself away to restore contact. Since its restoration, the Lamb looks at us confidently and somewhat challengingly. God’s desire to love calls on us. During every Eucharist, humankind is once again liberated at the altar. It is not by our own strength that we are redeemed, but by the death and resurrection of Christ. In the distance we see an imaginary city. Most buildings are fictitious. But we also recognize the Dom Tower of Utrecht and the tower of the Saint Nicholas’ Church in Ghent. The Van Eyck brothers painted the future vision of a new heaven and a new earth, inspired by the Book of Revelation. Misery will pass. The vision of peace and harmony gives hope and courage in difficult times. The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb paints a moving picture of human history. In spite of everything, evil has already been conquered. Not by human power, but by surrender.

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