Tag Archives: art

World’s most coveted painting

Hubert Eyck/The Bridgeman Art Library/Getty Images

NPR has an intriguing story about what might be the world’s most coveted painting.  Completed in 1432 by Jan van Eyck, the Ghent Altarpiece features panels depicting biblical themes and pilgrims adoring the Lamb of God. Throughout the centuries, it was stolen or faced the threat of theft many times. NPR spoke with Author Noah Charney, who has a new book out on the subject.

A snip:

The altarpiece was painted for the cathedral of St. Bavo, in Ghent.  And during the first century of its existence, nothing much happened.

Then, in 1566, all hell broke loose. Protestant militants broke down the cathedral doors with an improvised battering ram, intending to burn the altarpiece, which they considered to be an example of Catholic idolatry and excess. But alert Catholic guards had disassembled the enormous work and hidden it in the cathedral tower, where it survived unscathed.

Over the next few centuries, the Ghent Altarpiece was taken as booty in the Napoleonic Wars and then returned to Ghent.  Parts of it were stolen by a vicar at St. Bavo and ended up, after several sales, in a Berlin museum.

When World War I broke out, a brave cathedral canon hid the painting away in a junkman’s wagon for safety. It took the Treaty of Versailles to finally reunite all the panels in their original home.

Enduring Mystery

The Ghent Altarpiece didn’t stay safe for long. Thieves broke into the cathedral one night in 1934 and made off with the lower left panel.

“This is the enduring mystery that really is part of the popular cultural awareness of the people of Ghent still to this day,” Charney says.

The theft has never been solved. Visitors to St. Bavo Cathedral today will see a copy of the missing panel, painted during World War II. The copy is so good that many people thought it might be the original, hidden in plain sight, though recent conservation work has disproved that theory.

Raiders Of The Mystic Lamb

Missing panel and all, the Ghent Altarpiece was stolen one last time during World War II, on the orders of Nazi Gen. Hermann Goering.

“This may sound very silly,” says Charney, “but in fact, the Nazis and Hitler in particular were absolutely convinced that the occult and the supernatural was real,” and the Ghent Altarpiece was thought to be a sort of mystical treasure map showing the location of relics of Christ’s passion.

The altarpiece ended up hidden with thousands of other looted artworks in a converted salt mine in Austria. The local SS commander had wired the mine with dynamite, determined to destroy all the art as the Allies began closing in.

Charney says the Ghent Altarpiece was eventually saved through the heroism of salt miners who disabled the bombs, and the work of local Austrian resistance fighters and Allied “monuments men” whose job it was to hunt for stolen art.

Read the full story here.

‘Christ has no hands but ours’

It is said that after German bombers destroyed an English cathedral during the Second World War, dedicated volunteers worked to repair one of the church’s broken statues of Christ. Rather than restore the figure’s missing hands, the artisans left Christ handless – replacing the artwork’s “Come unto Me” inscription with “Christ has no hands but ours.”

While the authenticity of that popular story is a matter for debate, the message it conveys is not: Christians are called to be Christ’s presence in the world today.

Priests carry out that call in a special way – celebrating Mass, anointing the sick, absolving sins, helping the poor and serving in ways that often go unnoticed and unappreciated.

Stephen Golder Photo

Stephen Golder, a photographer who lives in Georgia, recently completed a powerful project focused solely on the hands of priests.

With the blessing of leaders of the Archdiocese of Atlanta, the Catholic convert devoted seven months to following priests in northern Georgia, photographing their hands as a project for the recently completed Year for Priests.

Stephen Golder Photo

As you can see from the photos posted in this blog, the results are stunning.

Here’s how Golder describes the effort:

Stephen Golder Photo

Photographing these hands, especially focusing in detail on the movements and images of the Eucharist, has left us properly awestruck at the incredible beauty of our faith.

It is our hope that these images will remind the faithful of the enormous gifts our priests bring to us: not only Christ in the Eucharist, but Christ in all they do.


Deacon Greg Kandra, author The Deacon’s Bench, was probably the first to call national attention to this innovative effort. He met with the photographer, who convinced the good deacon to allow his own hands to be photographed as well.

St. Teresa of Avila wrote a prayer that seems to fit perfectly with Golder’s design:

Christ has no body now on earth , but yours,
No hands but yours,
No feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which is to look out Christ’s compassion to the world;
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good;
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now. Amen.

Stephen Golder Photo

Fake priest tricks art world with masterful deception

The fake copy of a watercolour boating scene by Paul Signac that was offered to the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art.

A man posing as a Jesuit priest has managed to trick a lot of museums into accepting masterful counterfeits. The only thing he seems to have gotten in return is the satisfaction of pulling it off.

The UK’s Guardian reported Nov. 16 that the fakes are so perfect that most cannot be detected without high magnification. One theory holds that the man may have been “embittered by his struggles to find recognition under his own name,” according to The Guardian.

A snip from the article:

A picture is emerging of one of the most bizarre cases of deception in art history. Unlike other forgers, the “priest” does not ask for payment of any kind for his Picassos, Signacs and Daumiers which have been described as “masterful”. It seems the alleged fraudster simply enjoys fooling museum experts who have not only accepted his fakes as cherished gifts but invited him to “special donor events” in the belief that he has more to give.

Research by senior museum figures suggests he has targeted more than 30 museums so far and institutions across the United States are now being warned to look out for him.

WKRC in Cincinnati reported Nov. 23 that experts at the Cincinnati Art Museum figured out the scam.  The forgeries were made when someone meticulously painted over digital reproductions of originals. The fake priest was identified as Mark Landis, who used many aliases.

A snip:

Landis posed as a Jesuit priest at the Hilliard Museum in Louisiana. He really played the part. In the parking lot before he left, he blessed the museum. The F.B.I. says there is no crime, because Landis isn’t selling the fakes.

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