This is a section from the Pilgrims panel of the Ghent Altarpiece painted by Jan van Eyck and his brother Hubert. It represents a group of pilgrims queueing behind St Christopher, patron saint of travellers, waiting to be assisted across dangerous waters.
It was St Christopher who once carried a child on his shoulders across a swollen river and discovered afterwards that the boy was Jesus. It’s likely that the youth in red is intended to represent that child.
However, there is an unusual aspect about this group of pilgrims. Only the youth in red is shown with an ear exposed. All the other figures, including St Christopher, have their ears covered.
So what could be the possible explanation for this seemingly intentional peculiarity?
And the grinning woman at the back of the group, who could she be? Is there a connection between her and the boy?