Sometimes you, a priceless work of art, go in to have a little work done and the restorers go a bit overboard. Suddenly you’re disconcertingly hot, I mean not necessarily in a good way; it’s sort of — terrifying? It’s been hundreds of years since you’ve looked this good. Now wherever you go art critics and clergy faint due to an overwhelming cocktail of conflicting emotions. This was certainly the case for a 15th-century oil painting of the Lamb of God who has just been given the face of an Instagram influencer.
Jia Tolentino reported on the “Instagram face” phenomenon in a recent New Yorker piece where she characterized the new cyborgian visage as “a young face, of course, with poreless skin and plump, high cheekbones. It has catlike eyes and long, cartoonish lashes; it has a small, neat nose and full, lush lips. It looks at you coyly but blankly, as if its owner has taken half a Klonopin and is considering asking you for a private-jet ride to Coachella.”
This is clearly the look that the restorers of the Ghent Altarpiece have achieved, if not intended. The BBC reports that multimillion-dollar restoration work to the final panel of Hubert and Jan van Eyck’s 1432 masterpiece, currently housed at Belgium’s Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage, was unveiled in December and has since sparked a dramatic conversation in the art world about how weird the lamb looks.
The painting in question, known as The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, depicts the Lamb of God, a representation of Jesus, being sacrificed on an altar. And as you can see above, the lamb now has large, hypnotic eyes, an ultraconcentrated ducklike pout, and cutting, almost gaunt, cheekbones. Smithsonian magazine described the creature as “alarmingly humanoid,” pointing out that the cartoonish liberties taken with the lamb are only further emphasized by the “naturalistic” style that characterizes the rest of the panels.
I have to agree that this sultry sheep is now the clear breakout star of the Ghent Altarpiece — she’s fun, flirty, and ready to say yes to the swag bag.