Flemish altarpiece undergoes major restoration

Adoration of the mystic lamb ghent

An elaborate Renaissance altarpiece that has transfixed churchgoers and art lovers alike for centuries is undergoing its most ambitious restoration in its nearly 600-year history.

Flemish masterpiece “The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb,” also known as the Ghent Altarpiece, is the work of masters Hubert and Jan Van Eyck. A $1.6 million, five-year project to restore it is unusual in that it taking place in full public view at the Ghent Fine Arts Museum.

The work, designed for Ghent’s Saint Bavo Cathedral, was completed in 1432. It is believed that Hubert Van Eyck designed it before his death in 1426 and Jan Van Eyck executed much of it.

Made of 12 oak panels painted on both sides, the 11-foot-by-15-foot work has attracted attention since its unveiling, though not all of it good.

During the Reformation, Protestants attacked Ghent in the 16th century and the altarpiece was hauled up to safety in the cathedral tower.

Following the French Revolution, the altarpiece was among a number of art works plundered in today’s Belgium and was later exhibited at the Louvre. Those panels seized by the French were returned to the church by the Duke of Wellington after his victory at Waterloo against Napoleon in 1815, according to Agence France-Presse.

Several of the painting’s wings were sold in 1816 to an English collector living in Berlin, Edward Solly. Among panels not sold was one with Adam and another with Eve, which were the first known nudes in Flemish art.

Solly’s panels were bought in 1821 by the King of Prussia, Frederick William III, and were displayed in a Berlin art museum.

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Notre Dame’s new bells arrive in Paris

notre dame bells

After nearly 225 years, the bells of Notre Dame de Paris will soon ring again with pitch-perfect tones.

Nine enormous, new bronze bells, including one weighing six and half tons, have arrived in Paris to give the famed medieval cathedral a more harmonious sound.

They are joining the cathedral’s oldest surviving bell, a great bell named Emmanuel, to restore rich tones originally conceived for the great church, according to The Daily Mail.

The new bells, each named for a saint or prominent Catholic figure, were nearly all cast in a foundry in the Normandy town of Villedieu. They will be blessed Saturday in the cathedral’s nave by Archbishop Andre Armand Vingt-Trois, according to The Associated Press.

“The nine casts were ordered for the cathedral’s 850th birthday – to replace the discordant “ding dang” of the previous four 19th century chimes,” according to the wire serve.

The original bells, except for Emmanuel, were destroyed in the French Revolution, and the replacements were said to be France’s “most out-of-tune church bells.” Emmanuel has long enjoyed a special place in the hearts of Parisians; it was rung in 1944 to announce the liberation of Paris from Nazi occupation.

Perhaps the most famous bell-ringer in literary history, Quasimodo, toiled at Notre Dame in Victor Hugo’s 1831 classic “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.” It should be noted that he was also deaf.

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Relic of Louis XVI confirmed after 220 years


It is one of the most enduring images of the French Revolution: Parisians dipping handkerchiefs and other bits of cloth into the pooled blood of Louis XVI moments after the monarch had been guillotined on Jan. 21, 1793.

Some wanted a relic of the fallen king; others proof that the Bourbon sovereign was indeed dead.

After years of searching for a vestige of this historic event, which shook Europe, researchers have hit pay dirt, according to The Telegraph.

“A new DNA analysis has solved a mystery that has lasted for almost 220 years, finding that an ornate gourd almost certainly carries the bloodstains of the fallen king,” according to the British publication.

Parisian Maximilien Bourdaloue not only witnessed Louis’s public execution, he joined many others in dipping a handkerchief in the dead monarch’s blood left at the foot of the guillotine at an area today called Place de la Revolution.

Bourdaloue then secreted this garment inside a gourd called a calabash. The rag itself has long since decomposed, but the calabash still carries crimson stains and an inscription recording how the souvenir was collected after the king’s “decapitation,” according to The Telegraph.

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The boy king who died for his father’s sins

On this date in 1795, France’s little-remembered Louis XVII is said to have died in a midievel fortress in Paris, a victim of the French Revolution that had earlier claimed his more famous parents, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

Born in March 1785, the young Louis was orphaned with the execution of his mother in October 1793, at the age of 8. His father, the King of France, had been guillotined nine months earlier.

Following his father’s death, the young Louis became the uncrowned King of France and Navarre in the eyes of the royalists. However, he was imprisoned from August 1792 until his death and was never officially crowned king.

His title is one bestowed by French Legitimists and by the fact that Louis XVIII, who ruled from 1814-1826, adopted the title Louis XVIII rather than Louis XVII.

The young Louis was the second-born son of Louis XVI but became heir-apparent when his older brother died in 1789, about the time the French Revolution erupted amid rising food prices food shortages, crushing national debt and a perceived indifference among the Royal Court to the welfare of the masses.

As conditions worsened, the royal family attempted to flee the turmoil.

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The short, unhappy life of a young royal

Today marks the birthday of Louis-Charles, a French royal born into opulence and privilege but who had the misfortune to be the son of two wildly unpopular monarchs.

Life didn’t look so bad for the son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette when he was born in 1785, who went by the name of Louis, but that changed a couple of years later with the French Revolution, which led to the execution of his parents and his own imprisonment from the age of 7 onward. 

After his father’s death,, Royalists designated him as Louis XVII, though he was never officially crowed, nor did he rule.

But after the execution of his father on in January 1793, 8-year-old Louis became a rallying point for Monarchists, a fact not lost on adherents of the Revolution. Schemes were devised to try to free the young monarch, but to no avail. 

The young royal was kept in essential isolation for much of 1794 and nearly half of 1795, in filthy conditions. 

Louis received almost no medical care during his imprisonment and on June 8, 1795, at the age of 10, he died of tuberculosis-related complications. 

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The Bastille: Saving the best for last

A good portion of the French-speaking world celebrates Bastille Day today, but how many know that by the time angry French citizens stormed the fortress prison in 1789 it had already been in existence for approximately 400 years?

The Bastille may have gained everlasting fame during the French Revolution but was built as the Bastion de Saint-Antoine during the Hundred Years’ War.

The Bastille originated as the Saint-Antoine gate, but from 1370–1383, during the Hundred Years’ War, the gate was extended to create a fortress to defend the east end of Paris and the Hôtel Saint-Pol royal palace.

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