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Current time:0:00Total duration:5:18

Video transcript

[Music] we're gonna have a look at the Ghent Altarpiece it is absolutely breathtaking and it's really complicated it is it's made up of many many panels it's a politican those panels are connected by hinges so they open and close which means that we actually see this set of paintings in in two distinct ways we either see it opened or closed and this is important because I think it would be closed much of the year and then opened on feast days as a kind of revelation this would have had no a buret frame there's some controversy about actually who painted it this is generally ascribed to John van Eyck some suggests that his brother Hugh bear may have begun it the frame was lost presumably during the iconoclasm that is the attacks on Catholic art during the Reformation and we also know that this painting was much coveted by the Nazis and was actually stored in a salt mind we're lucky we still have it today we have at the top some figures with scrolls and books and those are prophets and sibyl's who predicted the coming of Christ the coming of a messiah and the moment that they predicted is actually unfolding right below them and that is the scene of the Annunciation where the angel Gabriel is announcing to Mary that she is about to conceive the Christ Gabriel over on the Left panel Mary three panels to the right and then wonderfully empty space not empty in fact this fabulous a cityscape and then I kind of still life on the right middle panel but nevertheless an unoccupied set of spaces that suggest the opportunity for Christ's arrival and we have the usual trappings of the Annunciation the angel Gabriel holds lilies which are a symbol of Mary's purity her sinlessness or virginity the angel Gabriel announces and you can actually see words coming out of the angel's mouth in Latin hail Mary full of grace blessed art thou among women and Mary on the other side with the Dove above her head which represents the Holy Spirit and words coming out of her mouth her reply to the angel Gabriel coming out backwards right to left instead of left to right and upside down behold to the handmaiden of the Lord backwards make sense right because she's speaking back to the angel it's very interesting that the words are also upside down it makes this question who she's speaking to doesn't it perhaps to God who's looking from above everything in this set of panels is very concrete and absolutely physical and yet those words because they're gold but also because they're not attached to anything physically represented or wonderfully ethereal and speak to God there is that tension between the writing which is a very medieval thing to do it reinforces the flatness of the image and yet there's a tension between that and as you said this physicality of everything else a sense of space the objects that are depicted are incredibly real as the light reflects on them that cityscape that goes out into a distance where we can see figures and shadows and buildings and birds or that still life on the right where we see the sunlight from the windows beautifully reflected attention to detail that is very unique to the Northern Renaissance these artists were miniatures and that attention to detail comes through even on this large scale but we don't want to say that this is the kind of naturalism or realism that we would have seen developed at this very time in Italy because it's not we're seeing a kind of awkward linear perspective and the figures themselves look as if they might bump their heads if they actually stood up in this room this space seems to rush back and also we're not seeing an attention to the reality of the human body that we would have seen in the Italian Renaissance we have kind of drapery that seems to have a life of its own with lots of angular folds it almost seems to hide the body underneath and we should say that the altarpiece is 11 and a half feet high it's really large it's made for a private chapel in st. Paul's Cathedral and ghent that belonged to the patron who we see below so we have four figures or two figures and then two sculptures but that in and of itself raises a really interesting visual trickery we take the figures who are dressed in as real people and then the sculptor's in the middle carved of stone but of course this is all page the figures who are represented as sculptures are the two st. John's and I think they had particular relevance for the chapel and for the family it's also interesting to look at the patrons because there's that thing that you always see in the Northern Renaissance which is this amazing ability to represent different textures because of course the artists are using oil paint and so that fur on his collar really seems like fur and his skin really seems like the skin of an old man and of course oil paint will have a profound impact on the sense of this painting but especially when we open it up [Music]