When 2020 was declared the year of van Eyck, the city council of Ghent suggested local artisans to come up with ideas inspired by van Eyck. ‘Your ideas, our marketing’ – was the deal. And artisans are numerous in our city: there are a lot of highly skilled professionals who run all sorts of businesses from beer brewing to hat design. Ideas were plentiful, and on February 1, 2020, together with the van Eyck exhibition in the Museum of Fine Arts the so-called van Eyck Shop opened in the center of Ghent in the basement of the Belfry (with the entrance right under the stairs leading to the Belfry). I visited the shop immediately after the opening and would like to tell you about what I saw and liked the most.
The first position in my personal rating is occupied by a decanter with the unobvious name HLS-04. It is the reincarnation of the carafe standing right behind Virgin Mary on the Annunciation panel of the Ghent Altarpiece. The decanter was designed by a Ghent-based design bureau Skwon and mouth-blown in the Czech Republic using Medieval artisan techniques. Not only is the decanter itself pretty – pleasantly round and transparent with a warm yellowish tint, but the idea behind it is appealing to me as well. The designers say the rebirth of the decanter from the Altarpiece panel was inspired by the symbolic rebirth of the panels as the result of the recent restoration. The price is a bit too high to my liking – 65 euros, but I guess it is fair taking into account the artisanal production process.
From the decanter, I made a logical move to the drinks. In the time when van Eyck lived in Ghent, the city boasted 111 breweries (one hundred and eleven!). Now there are six, and they teamed up to create the OMG beer. ‘OMG van Eyck was here’ is the marketing motto of the year of van Eyck, hence the name. I bought a bottle as a gift and paid 6.95 euros for 750 milliliters. OMG indeed!
And to close the drinks topic: a charming Ghent-based eco-friendly company Blommm has created a herbal infusion based on some of the herbs depicted on the Altarpiece. On the packaging, Adam and Eve from the Altarpiece with a modern twist, and on the ingredients list. Our family members are notorious tea drinkers, so I bought the infusion as well and can tell you the van Eyck herbal tea is lovely!
By the way, Pauline Verhast of Blommm has more than the tea infusion in store for the van Eyck year: in the van Eyck shop, you can also buy seeds of flowers from the Altarpiece panels. Sow them in the spring and enjoy your private heavenly garden all summer long! And on top of that, Blommm also offers postcards and posters with drawings of the plants from the Altarpiece. You can’t blame Pauline for not being thorough with van Eyck!
From flora, we move on to fauna. Quite understandable in the city of the Mystic Lamb, the van Eyck shop is full of lambs of all kinds. Lambs are everywhere: on rugs and magnets, enameled brooches and earrings, notebooks and T-shirts – they are so abundant that I finally got tired of them and walked further only to stumble on the most astonishing piece sold in the van Eyck shop – this waistcoat. Try to guess its price, I’ll give the answer below.
It’s a lovely garment, you’ll say, but what does van Eyck have to do with it? I didn’t have a clue either. Luckily, right under the waistcoat, they placed paper cards with the explanation. It turns out, the front is made of the finest merino wool, and in the time of van Eyck Ghent was famous for producing wool cloth of exclusive quality. Secondly, the fabric is dyed with ultramarine – a pigment derived from lapis lazuli, which was the most valuable pigment painters used in the time of van Eyck.
Thirdly, the buttons are made of solid silver, and on the Altarpiece, precious metals and gems are everywhere. And finally, the garment is a creation of Aravinda Rodenburg, a representative of the disappearing profession of bespoke tailors. There are only four bespoke tailors in Belgium! No wonder the waistcoat costs 1870 (one thousand eight hundred and seventy) euros! Just for your reference, the minimum gross salary in Belgium is just under 1600 euros.
Leaving the waistcoat behind, I walked further and saw felt hats and woolen stoles, silver bracelets and gold earrings, marble candlesticks and ceramic bowls, wooden cutting boards and virgin olive oil soap, wooden bow ties and leather handbags – van Eyck is obviously an inexhaustible source of inspiration! If you’re in Ghent, have a look in the shop, I am sure you’ll find something to your liking there!