The Ghent Altarpiece, Which Has Been Stolen a Dozen Times, Is Now Protected in a $35 Million Bulletproof Display

The painting now hangs in a state-of-the-art, climate-controlled case with bullet-proof glass.

The Ghent Altarpiece at St. Bavo's Cathedral. Photo: Cedric Verhelst.

An eight-year-long, $2.4 million restoration of the Ghent Altarpiece went viral last year as the 12-paneled painting’s central figure, a sweet lamb symbolizing Jesus himself, was made to look like the kid from the ”Trying to hold a fart next to a cute girl in class” meme

People online promptly compared the effort to Monkey Christ and any number of other famous restoration fails—even as researchers proved that this is what the lamb originally looked like when Flemish painters Jan Van Eyck and Hubert Van Eyck first created the work at Belgium’s St. Bavo’s Cathedral in 1432.

But you needn’t rely on memes to weigh in on the painting anymore. Today, St. Bavo’s Cathedral welcomed the famed painting home after its run in a once-in-a-lifetime Jan van Eyck exhibition, and in doing so they unveiled a new €30 million ($35 million) state-of-the-art glass structure for its display, as well as other updates.

The Ghent Altarpiece at St. Bavo's Cathedral. Photo: Cedric Verhelst.

The Ghent Altarpiece at St. Bavo’s Cathedral. Photo: Cedric Verhelst.

The 20-foot-tall case boasts bulletproof glass and a 1,000-square-foot climate-controlled interior. The painting was moved from the cathedral’s Vijd Chapel to the Sacrament chapel, where, according to the Guardian, it will hang from pneumatically controlled steel supports above an altar. Meanwhile, extra large security doors have been installed nearby, in case of an emergency. 

For another painting this might seem like overkill, but not for the Ghent Altarpiece, which, over the course of its 588-year history, has been stolen on more than a dozen occasionsNapoleon and Hitler were among those desperate to take it—and nearly destroyed by fire on numerous others.  

“Jan Van Eyck was a genius who has been astonishing the world for more than five centuries with his innovative techniques. Both the magnificent restoration and the circumstances in which the Ghent Altarpiece can now be admired are astonishing,” Jan Jambon, the Flemish Prime Minister, said in a statement. “The splendor of colors, the details, the lighting: everything is perfect. That makes us proud.”

Visitors touring the St. Bavo’s Cathedral with AR glasses. Photo: Bas Bogaerts.

Visitors touring the St. Bavo’s Cathedral with AR glasses. Photo: Bas Bogaerts.

With the installation of a new display for the Van Eycks’ masterpiece came a full architectural upgrade for St. Bavo’s—a process that involved the redesign of the Cathedral Crypt and some of the building’s ancient stone walls. With an elevator and extra sets of stairs, the 746-year-old site is now fully accessible. The cathedral has also introduced a new augmented reality experience that will guide visitors through the space virtually. 

“Religious and Christian heritage is unlocked here in a unique way,” the Bishop of Ghent, Lode Van Hecke, added. “This is not only important for the sake of the past, but even more so for today and tomorrow.” 

“It confronts us with human’s eternal quest for mystery,” he continued. “I am convinced that many people will find personal resonance here.”

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