The mystery of the stolen panel
Towering a stone’s throw away from De Abt, the impressive St. Bavo Cathedral is a building inextricably linked to the brothers Hubert and Jan Van Eyck. Together with Hans Memling, Rogier van der Weyden and Dirk Bouts, to name but a few, they belong to the school of the Flemish Primitives. This group of painters from the late 15th and early 16th century based in the (Southern) Netherlands is world famous. Jan Van Eyck is even known as the inventor of the oil painting technique.
The theft of the Righteous Judges
Commissioned by the wealthy merchant Joos Vijd, the Van Eyck brothers painted ‘The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’ between 1430 and 1432. The triptych consists of 12 wooden panels and is one of the most stunning masterpieces in the world. Vijd later donated the altarpiece to St Bavo’s Cathedral.
Two panels disappeared on the night of 10 to 11 April 1934: ‘John the Baptist’ and the ‘The Righteous Judges’. While the former panel was returned anonymously a few days later, ‘The Righteous Judges’ vanished without a trace. The location of the panel remains elusive to this day, despite intense investigations.
Who stole it?
Even though theories about the theft of ‘The Righteous Judges’ abound, it remains a total mystery to date. The main suspect was Arsène Goedertier, a Flemish stockbroker and art lover from Wetteren. Legend has it that he had stolen the panel and hidden it somewhere.
But, according to a former Ghent police commissioner, he must have received help from the diocese of Ghent to pull it off. Even though, on his deathbed, Arsène Goedertier admitted that he knew where the panel was, finding the exact location was no longer possible.
The theft and the Abbot of Orval
According to various sources, none other than Abbot Marie-Albert Van der Cruyssen knew more about the panel’s theft and the secret location. In 1953, he was spotted riding together in an automobile with Valère Goedertier, the younger brother of the alleged thief, and Canon Gabriel Vanden Gheyn, curator at the time of the theft. In that period, Marie-Albert was already struggling with serious health problems.
Who is the illustrious Abbot of Orval? Discover the story of Karel van der Cruyssen.
According to a former police commissioner, the priest fled during the Second World War to keep the panel out of Nazi hands. Presumably with the Louvre as his final destination as the artwork was cleaned there. According to the former commissioner, the Louvre archives contain an authentic colour photograph of the stolen panel.
Today, the theft and the hiding place of ‘The Righteous Judges’ remain a big mystery. A situation that is unlikely to change for a while.
2020: Van Eyck year
In 2020, the fully restored altarpiece of ‘The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’ will return to its original home: St Bavo’s Cathedral. At the same time, the Van Eyck brothers will be honoured with a wonderful exhibition at MSK Ghent and festivities in and around the cathedral.
De Abt will also be celebrating with a range of activities and a special menu. We, too, are immensely proud of the brilliant brothers.
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