THE TAFT ALTARPIECE
THE TAFT ALTAR PIECE*
by Jane M McCabe, completed in December, 2011
Inspiration for the altar piece came from the Ghent Altar Piece, The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, completed in 1432. Joost Vijdt, a wealthy merchant and financier, commissioned Hubert van Eyck to paint this work in his and his wife’s private chapel. When Hubert died in 1426, while the work was underway, it was completed by his younger brother Jan van Eyck. The altarpiece represents a “new conception in art,” in which the idealization gives way to exact observation.
* During the Renaissance altarpieces were named for the place where they were located. This altarpiece was painted in Taft. When it finds a permanent home, it will be renamed accordingly.
The biblical references in the altarpiece come mainly from the 5th Chapter of the book of Revelation, in which John sees a large scroll with seven seals on it. An angel proclaims in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” John weeps because he thinks there is no one worthy to break the seals, but then one of the elders tells him, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
Then John sees a Lamb, looking as if it has been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by four living creatures and twenty-four elders. The elders sing, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”
Panel 1: The Lamb of God
The central panel of the altar piece is of The Lamb of God. He is surrounded by elders, some of whom hold golden bowls of incense. The Lamb holds the scroll with seven seals with his right front leg. Hands of angels can be seen swinging incense holders.
Panel 2: The Martha Panel
Directly to the Lamb’s left is a large panel of a Mexican woman seated on a patio, wearing a navy blue silk robe, and holding dog on her lap and a yellow fan. She represents women the world over who are pure of heart and who, like the Virgin Mary, ponder things in their hearts. I call this The Martha Panel because Martha is the
name of the lady who modeled for it.
Panel 3: The Joshua Panel
After thought I decided to use a young man for the panel to the right of the Lamb, a young man who was still uncorrupted by the world. I envisioned exactly what I wanted: that he would be Nordic and wear a white cowboy hat, a blue shirt, Levis, and cowboy boots. Within two days a young man, dressed exactly in the fashion I had envisioned, walked past the gallery. He agreed to pose for me with his arm around a palomino filly. I call this The Joshua Panel because his name is Joshua.
Panels 4 and 5: The Music Panels
Directly above the Lamb are two panels of organ pipes that might be found in a modern church. In the right panel there is a musician playing an organ in a cathedral. The music panels serve as a transition from the Lamb of God, to heaven, the arched panel above them. They represent my belief that holy music is close to the heart of God.
Panel 6: The Judgment Panel
The panel contains busts of three figures. It is Judgment Day when all souls are called before the Lamb to be judged. The center person is Jesus, but I have given him a haircut. To his left is an unidentified arch-angel. She holds a winnowing fork in her right hand, ready to separate “the wheat from the chaff.” The arch-angel to Jesus’ left, dressed in a business suit, is Gabriel. Holding a sword in his left hand, he will separate the saved from the unsaved.
Panels 7, 8, 9 & 10: The Four Living Creatures—the Lion; the Eagle; the Animal with a Human Face; and the Calf
Panels 11, 12 & 13: The Still Life panels
Beneath the Lamb are three still life’s.
The still life to the left is of a loaf of bread and a bottle wine and represents the body and blood of Jesus as shared in Communion.
The middle still-life is of a vase, holding purple irises and some pearls, represents beauty. Inspiration here comes from Hugo Van Der Goes’ Portinari Altarpiece, completed about 1476, particularly the vase of irises set before the Christ Child.
The still life to the right is of a globe and open book and represents knowledge. All of these are in praise of the Lamb.
Panels 14, 15, 16, & 17: The Hollyhock panels
The hollyhocks are merely decorative.
The altarpiece took me almost exactly a year to paint. I enjoyed tapping into the style of the Renaissance in northern Europe.
For more information please contact
Jane M McCabe at 323.221.0175 or send an email to
If you would like to see the video made for the altarpiece, please go to