The Just Judges
As part of the Ghent altarpiece, it was displayed at the Saint Bavo Cathedral in Ghent, Belgium, until stolen during the night of 10 April 1934, possibly by the Belgian Arsène Goedertier (Lede, 23 December 1876 – Dendermonde, 25 November 1934). The next day the commissioner of the Ghent police, Antoine Luysterborghs briefly arrived at the crime scene before leaving to investigate a theft at a nearby cheese shop.
The panel was removed from the frame, apparently with care, leaving the other panels undamaged. In the empty space was left a note, written in French, with the words, "Taken from Germany by the Treaty of Versaile", a reference to the fact that the altarpiece had been returned to the Ghent only a decade earlier after having been moved to Berlin during World War I. On 30 April, the Bishop of Ghent received a ransom demand for one million Belgian francs, to which the Belgium minister refused to agree. A second letter was delivered in May and at the time the Belgium government took on the negotiations with the thief on the pretext that as national treasures, the diocese ownership was secondary to the nation. Correspondence continued through October between the thief and the government, with the exchange of at least 11 letters. In an act of good faith the ransomer returned one of the panel's two parts (a grisaille painting of St John the Baptist).
On 25 November 1934 the thief, Arsène Goedertier, revealed on his deathbed to his lawyer that he was the only one who knew where the masterpiece was hidden, and that he would take the secret to his grave. Goedertier told his lawyer, Georges de Vos, that "I alone know where the Mystic Lamb is. The information is in the drawer on the right of my writing table, in an envelope marked 'mutualité.'" De Vos found carbon copies of the ransom notes, and an unsent note that said "[it] rests in a place where neither I, nor anybody else, can take it away without arousing the attention of the public." De Vos only told the police of Goedertier's confession a month later; the police later concluding Goedertier had been the thief. Although several people have claimed to know its whereabouts, the painting has never been recovered and is now believed to be destroyed. The panel was replaced in 1945 by a copy by Belgian copyist Jef Vanderveken. A Ghent police detective remains assigned to the case of the missing panel.
It is believed the panel showed portraits of several contemporary figures such as Philip the Good, and the artists themselves with Hubert van Eyck and Jan van Eyck both possibly shown in the now lost panel.
The panel is a prominent symbol in the novel The Fall (1956) by Albert Camus. Its protagonist, Jean-Baptiste Clamence, claims to have found the painting in a bar called "Mexico City", and his secret withholding of the painting empowers him, he feels, in his newfound role of "judge-penitent".
- Casert, Raf (19 November 2012). "Art's perfect theft: the 'Ghent Altarpiece'". Yahoo News. AP. Retrieved 20 November 2012.
- Charney, (2010), 157-158
- "The Ghent Altarpiece: the truth about the most stolen artwork of all time". The Guardian. 20 December 2013. Retrieved 21 December 2013.
- Charney, (2010), 143-156
- Charney, (2010), 157
- Charney, (2010), 144
- Charney, Noah. Stealing the Mystic Lamb. New York: PublicAffairs. 2010. ISBN 1-58648-800-7