A tiny city in a small European country, the medieval enclave of Ghent, Belgium, is home today to just under a quarter million people. It is also the current residence of a 15th-century artwork — a sumptuous, sprawling, and theologically complex 12-panel altarpiece known variously as the Ghent Altarpiece, "The Mystic Lamb," or, in Flemish, "Het Lam Gods" ("The Lamb of God") — that scholars consider to be one of the great masterpieces of Western civilization.
In a crowded and competitive field of admirers, one of the altarpiece's most ardent contemporary devotees is Noah Charney, the author of a new history called "Stealing the Mystic Lamb" that ascribes another superlative to the piece: the world's most frequently stolen artwork. In the book, with the breathless voice of a lover smitten with the one that got away (again and again), Charney charts the wrangling over a work that "collectors, dukes, generals, kings, and entire armies desired to such an extent that they killed, stole, and altered the strategic course of war to possess."
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