Recently whilst in Ghent Cathedral, I stumbled upon this plaque. The writing has faded but the inscription can still just be made out. It relates to a large artwork entitled “Adoration of the Mystic Lamb“ by Hubert and Jan Van Eyck, which normally resides within the Cathedral, but which is currently undergoing restoration (although thanks to the good people at Agfa, there is a wonderful life-size replica hanging in a side chapel).
The inscription on the plaque reads:
PICTOR HVBERTVS AB EYCK MAJOR QVO NEMO REPERTVS
INCEPIT PONDVSQVE JOHANNES ARTE SECVNDVS
FRATER PERFECIT JVDOCI VYD PRECE FRETVS
VERSV SEXTA MAI VOS COLLOCAT ACTA TVERI
Which translates to:
Hubrecht van Eyck, the most famous painter ever known
Started this work of art; his brother Jan, who was second in the art
Finished the task at the request of Joos Vijd.
With this verse the donor consigns the work to your charge on May 6th 1432.
The last line of the plaque poses an interesting little puzzle. Why has the engraver highlighted some letters in red?
Well you might have noticed something special about those particular letters – they are all used in Roman Numerals, thus:
I = 1
V = 5
X = 10
L = 50
C = 100
M = 1000
And if we simple read along the line, adding up the highlighted values as we go, we get:
5 + 5 + 10 + 1000 + 1 + 5 + 100 + 50 + 50 + 100 + 100 + 5 + 1
Which equals 1432, the year the artwork was completed.
Neat, don’t you think?