Apr. 15th, 2017

shewhomust: (bibendum)
It rained overnight, and was still overcast and damp when we went out this morning, so we started the day with some indoor sightseeing: where else but the cathedral? For one thing, it's a cathedral, and for another it's the home of the painting which I have always thought of as the Ghent altarpiece, which we are now apparently to call 'The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb', which the tourist guides agree is one of the most important paintings of all time (I'm pretty sure I read someone claiming that it is the best painting of all time, but I can't track that down, and anyway what does it even mean?).

Somewhere inside all that baroque ornamentation is a gothic cathedral, but what caught my eye was all the black and white frills and furbelows, black wood and white marble (and, I suspect, a lot of paint, but I was reluctant to touch) like an ice cream sundae with licquorice sauce and billows of whipped cream. I don't have many pictures: a noticeboard as you enter greets you with illustrations of all the things you must not do, and of course photography is one (no, two - still and moving) of them. My initial reaction was "Must photograph that!" and then, of course, "Oh. No." In fact the prohibition was widely ignored, and once I had reached peak irritation, I too began sneaking shots. Here's one of them, showing a seriously over-the-top pulpit by Laurent Delvaux (thankyou, Routard guide, for this information). I'd love to have taken more details, but hope this gives some idea:

The Triumph of Truth over Time


In contrast, the adoration of the Great Work is performed in a small side chapel (which will ultimately, when the renovation is complete, be a separate designated display space). You pay your money, or hand over your City Card, and go in past a desk where, for another euro you can have an audio guide, and then you join the crowd in front of the painting, whose multiple panels fill almost the whole height and width of the room; everyone else is also listening to the audio guide. I'm very bad at taking in information aurally, and after a bit I handed the listening task to Roger, who very kindly gave me edited highlights. I am also not good with crowds, but this process allowed me to squeeze through to the front and look for the details we had picked out as of interest (as far as my eyesight allows). What this preamble is saying, I think, is that I have gone through the motions of adoration, but somehow failed to adore. I saw details which were pleasing, but I never saw all those panels as a unity, the parts did not add up to more than their sum. Your mileage will probably vary, but I am generally a person who likes detail. who does not believe that less is more. Generally.

There's one thing, though. By chance we were there at midday, when the attendants close the wooden shutters of the triptych, so that you see the scenes painted on the outside, and the middle tier is a wonderful Annunciation, the angel Gabriel and Mary facing each other across a bare, wooden room, with a window looking out over the city, and a jug and towel ready for use - it's almost in trompe l'oeuil, and I loved it as I did not love the gem-like symbolism of the interior. But I did wonder what it would have been like to see the process in reverse, to arrive when the shutters were closed, and to see the lamb revealed?

After this we went for a much needed beer at the theatre bar.

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