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`’There are not even indications as to what part of the church it might be in,” said De Kesel. `’And I tell you, there are an awful lot of nooks and crannies.”

Perhaps closest to the mystery these days is art restorer Bart Devolder, at Ghent’s Museum of Fine Arts. He is working on the most ambitious restoration yet of the 15th-century painting. Devolder hopes the five-year restoration will raise interest in the theft of “The Just Judges,” which was replaced in 1941 by a much-lauded copy by art restorer Jozef Vander Veken.

The ongoing restoration `’offers the opportunity for a new boost to look for it,” Devolder said in an interview while taking a break from work. `’It really bothers me that the work is not complete.”

“The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” was finished in 1432 as medieval times gave way to the Renaissance, and the work’s stunning detail and sense of light were at the time unsurpassed.

Much as the restoration of Rome’s Sistine Chapel a dozen years ago wiped the grime off Michelangelo’s multicolored glories, there is hope the same will happen to the “Ghent Altarpiece” under Devolder’s efforts.

“If we remove the yellowing varnish, people will see the genius of Van Eyck even more,” Devolder said.

He maintains hope that he will one day get his hands on “The Just Judges”_ for restoration only of course. `’I am sure it will take a great deal of work,” he said, “depending where it was kept.”

He made an appeal to whoever might have possession of the panel.

`’We have an extra easel here,” said Devolder. `’They can quietly bring it in here. “No questions asked.”