World's Most Stolen Artwork

Ghent Altarpiece: 'most stolen' artwork gets €30m glass case.

One of the world’s greatest masterpieces, and surely the most stolen piece of art of all time, Hubert and Jan van Eyck’s Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, also known as the Ghent Altarpiece, has a new €30m (£26m) glass-case home.

While remaining within St Bavo’s Cathedral in Ghent, Belgium, for which it was painted in 1432 by the Van Eyck brothers, the 12-panelled polyptych will be located in the Sacrament chapel, the cathedral’s largest and most easterly chapel, within a bullet-proof display case.

The advantages of the new arrangements are said to include an improved visitor experience and better climatic conditions for the work, which has been meticulously restored to its former glory over the last seven years.

But, not surprisingly, a top priority has been the masterpiece’s security. During its nearly 600 year history, the Ghent Altarpiece has been nearly burned by rioting Calvinists, stolen by Napoleon for the Louvre in Paris, cut in half after falling into the hands of the King of Prussia, coveted by Hermann Göring and taken by Adolf Hitler before being rescued by a team of commando double-agents from an Austrian salt mine where it was destined to be blown apart with dynamite.

It has not survived entirely unscathed. One of its 12 panels remains missing after a daring heist in 1934, which has since baffled detectives, bemused amateur sleuths and driven to despair the Nazi agents ordered by Goebbels to find it as a gift for the German Führer.

In its new display case the artwork will be positioned above an altar in the Sacrament chapel where it will hang from a pneumatically controlled steel supporting frame, to allow unencumbered movement of its side panels, avoiding the need of vergers to physically access the display case. Every morning and evening, the polyptych will be gently opened and closed. But large security doors have been installed in the cathedral to enable the easy evacuation of the wooden panels in the event of emergency.


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