No Tulips Without Rain, 6: The Glory of Ghent

June 09, 2023  •  Leave a Comment

       The Belgian city of Ghent flourished and surpassed its commercial rival, Bruges, during the late Middle Ages.  Ghent grew wealthy as a center of the cloth trade in Flanders.  During that period, only Paris was a more populous European city.  Ghent’s medieval merchants and nobles demonstrated their piety by erecting churches in such profusion that Ghent has been called The City of Cathedrals.         If Ghent could not retain its economic dominance of Northern Europe for long, neither did it fall into obscurity.  Its citizens remain active in trade, culture and education.  Ghent boasts one of the continent's largest and most venerable universities, with more than 40,000 students.  Research firms, modern textile production and shipping concerns also contribute to Ghent's vitality.  

        Our local guide, Wim, was proud of his city for its policies as well as its past.  He showed us some walls where graffiti were permitted, acknowledging that the authorities could not prevent all street art but they could exercise some control over it.  Every few months, city workers cover the graffiti with a fresh coat of white paint.  I was impressed by the simple sanity of the practice.        For me, as for many others, Ghent owes its international renown to the Van Eyck brothers, creators of the Ghent Altarpiece. Since its 15th-Century completion, the vibrant, richly detailed Adoration of the Mystic Lamb has been stolen, recovered, hidden from vandals, restored and coveted anew.          The Ghent Altarpiece is back in Saint Bavo’s Cathedral, so that was today’s destination.  Miri, HL and I added tickets for an AR (Augmented Reality) show to our admission package.  We descended to the Romanesque crypt, where we were fitted with AR headsets.  We were guided through a holographic reenactment of Hubert’s and Jan Van Eyck’s creation of their Flemish  Gothic tour-de-force, including an explanation of its symbolism. Then we went upstairs to marvel at the altarpiece itself.                There are many images of the astonishing work on the Internet and in art books, so I shall direct you to those rather than include my own photographs.  In case you wonder if the AR presentation detracted from my viewing of the altarpiece, I found that the virtual prelude actually enhanced the experience.
 

The street gallery of graffiti

St. Bavo’s Cathedral’s crypt

Souvenirs from the cathedral’s gift shop

Stat​​​​​ues of dancers mounted on a roof, Ghent

  

Oude Stad (Old Town), Ghent

 


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