This is one of the great masterpieces of Renaissance art. It forms the centre panel of the Ghent Altarpiece by Hubert and Jan van Eyk and was completed after several years' work in 1432. The picture depicts Jesus as the Lamb of God standing on an altar in a meadow with angels in immediate attendance and various groups of worshippers surrounding the central figures. In the foreground is the Fountain of Life from which gush out the waters of life unceasingly, and above, wreathed in golden white light like a spiritual sun, is the Holy Spirit represented by a dove. Those adoring the Lamb in rapt contemplation are, at the top, male and female martyrs on left and right, some of whom can be identified, then, at bottom right, the 12 apostles who are kneeling with various saints behind them and, on the left, Old Testament prophets and pagan philosophers and writers including Virgil who is holding a laurel wreath. In the background are the towers and spires of the New Jerusalem and the golden rays coming down from the Holy Spirit bathe the whole scene in a kind of numinous quality. There is a great attention to detail in the painting of the trees, flowers, garments and so on which serves to create a heightened sense of reality. And an extra dimension of wonder is conveyed by the lamb's face which appears almost human without in any way being caricatural. Here it is after recent restoration.
The painting gives the impression of a real scene from the higher worlds, capturing a moment above earthly time in which the act of adoration is carried out as a constant paean of praise. The rich colours, the light emanating from the Holy Spirit, the stillness and intensity of the worshipping figures and the majesty and power of the Lamb all convey the sense of something profoundly real beyond this world.
I have never found the image of Jesus as the Lamb of God particularly attractive. If he is going to be an animal I'd prefer him to be a lion like Aslan though I understand the reasons behind the lamb symbolism. But this Lamb has the majesty and power of a lion without it seeming in any way less lamblike. Somehow it seems to show the Risen Christ in all his glory.
Note: I apologise for the somewhat messy spillover of the pictures onto the righthand side of the blog but I thought it better to include the image in as large a size as possible. If you click on the pictures you should be able to see them properly.