Jan van Eyck

1. Life and work.

(i) Training and early works in The Hague, to 1425.

According to a 16th-century Ghent tradition, represented by van Vaernewijck and Lucas d’Heere, Jan trained with his brother Hubert. Pietro Summonte’s assertion (1524) that he began work as an illuminator is supported by the fine technique and small scale of most of Jan’s works, by manuscript precedents for certain of his motifs, and by his payment in 1439 for initials in a book (untraced) for Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. Jan is first documented in The Hague in August 1422 as an established artist with an assistant and the title of ‘Master’, working for John III, Count of Holland (John of Bavaria; reg 1419–25), who evidently discovered the artist while he was bishop (1389–1417) of the principality of Liège. Jan became the court’s official painter and was paid, with a second assistant when the work increased in 1423, continuously, probably until the count’s death in January 1425.

The earliest known work by Jan van Eyck is an Adoration of the Magi (untraced) copied in a drawing (Berlin, Kupferstichkab.) and in several Dutch manuscripts, in which the kings wear clothes datable to c. 1420. The elongated and extremely delicate figures stand in a comprehensive landscape remarkable for this time. A Fishing Party at the Court of Holland centred possibly on John and his wife, Elizabeth of Görlitz, probably a wall painting or a tapestry for the Count’s residence, is also reproduced in a drawing (Paris, Louvre). Its archaic composition, with a frieze of figures flanking a vertically depicted stream, as well as the fashions, indicate a date c. 1420. A slightly later date is suggested by the Dutch costumes in most of the illuminations of Hand G, almost certainly Jan, in the Turin–Milan Hours. The technique of tiny strokes is similar to that of the small works in Jan’s accepted oeuvre, for example the flickering light and reflections in water, as in the somewhat later Virgin and Child with Chancellor Rolin (see §(iii) below).

(ii) Early works in Flanders, 1425–30.

After the death of John of Bavaria, Jan van Eyck moved to Bruges, where, on 19 May 1425, he became court painter and ‘varlet de chambre’ to Philip the Good, who knew the quality of his work personally and from reports of his familiars who also vouched for the artist’s loyalty and honesty. The Crucifixion on a Hill (untraced) that is copied both on a panel (Venice, Ca d’Oro) and in a miniature by Hand H in the Turin–Milan Hours (c. 1440; Turin, Mus. Civ. A. Ant., MS. 47, fol. 48v) must have dated from these months. The composition still uses the device of a hill to cover a missing middle ground in front of an exotic representation of Jerusalem, with small houses and enormous towers. The same device was used in a many-figured Building of the Tower of Babel (untraced; fragmentary copy, The Hague, Mauritshuis), which included a giant Nimrod in armour like that of the archangel Michael in the somewhat later Last Judgement (see below).

Jan moved to Lille in the summer, but soon began to travel for the Duke, making a pilgrimage in his name and at least two secret voyages. One of these may have been with an embassy that was absent for four months in 1425, enough time to go to Italy, which would account for the Alpine views and reflections of Italian art in some of Jan’s pictures. Jan spent most of 1426 and 1427 in Lille, probably decorating the walls of the ducal residence, which was then being rebuilt. Contrary to previous assertions, he did not accompany the embassy to Aragon that failed to negotiate a marriage for the Duke in 1427: he was in Lille in July and in Bruges in August (Paviot). But he may well have travelled to Tournai in October, where on Saint Jude’s day the municipality give a gift of wine to a painter named John.

In October 1428 Jan did accompany a Burgundian embassy, this time for the hand of Isabella, eldest daughter of John I of Portugal (reg 1385–1433). After a storm forced them to spend four weeks in England, the Burgundians arrived in Lisbon in December. In January they met the King in the castle of Aviz, and van Eyck painted the Infanta’s portrait, probably in two versions to accompany the two separate groups who left by sea and by land on 12 February to report the terms to the Duke. The portraits are untraced, but one is preserved in a drawing (Germany, priv. col., see Sterling, fig.), which reveals that Jan used the princess’s Portuguese dress for the Erythrean sibyl on the Ghent Altarpiece. While awaiting the Duke’s answer, the group made a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and visited John II of Castile at Valladolid and the Duke of Arjuna and Muhammad IX in Granada. After the favourable answer, the embassy re-embarked with the bride in September, but the voyage was so rough that they arrived only on Christmas Day. The wedding was celebrated in Bruges on 8 January 1430, and van Eyck undoubtedly contributed to the elaborate decorations for the week-long festivities. It seems that Jan painted the original of the Fountain of Life (untraced) during his stay in Portugal. Both of the known copies are Spanish (Madrid, Prado; Oberlin, OH, Oberlin Coll., Allen Art Mus.), the time is right for the style of the clothing, and the theme, the Jews confounded by their own scriptures, recalls the disputation of Tortosa of 1414 in which the Christian debaters attacked the Jews with rabbinic texts that were claimed to demonstrate the truth of Christianity. The history of the Bible of the Duke of Alba (Madrid, Pal. Liria, Col. Casa Alba) suggests that this idea persisted in Castile in the 1420s even as the government exercised greater tolerance towards the Jews, and the King or a member of his court could have commissioned the panel when they received the Burgundians in March 1429.

Jan van Eyck and workshop: Crucifixion and Last Judgment, oil…Other works attributed to Jan during this period are the wing panels of the Crucifixion and Last Judgement (both New York, Met.), which repeat the narrative mode of the Turin manuscript with crowds of small figures in a panoramic landscape. The distant river winding back to a pale alpine horizon in the Crucifixion, and the clothing similar to that in the Virgin and Child with Chancellor Rolin, suggest a date of c. 1428. The viewpoint is lower than in the earlier Crucifixion on a Hill and the middle ground is extended so that the crowd and setting flow smoothly behind the crosses almost to the distant city. A Road to Calvary (untraced), preserved in a copy on panel with an unusual horizontal format (Budapest, Mus. F.A.), also displayed fashions of the late 1420s and landscape devices similar to those in the New York Crucifixion.

Most of the early panels, like the miniatures in the Turin–Milan Hours, are narrative scenes that no longer present the sequence of episodes found in earlier narrative art, but epitomize the story in one significant scene (Belting and Eichberger), in which many little figures are massed together in a glancing light that suggests a particular and ephemeral time of day.

(iii) Mature works in Ghent and Bruges, 1430–41.

Jan settled in Bruges, where he is documented in 1431, and spent much of the next two years in finishing the panels of his brother’s retable (see (1) above), which were apparently transported from Ghent (see fig.). Technical and stylistic analyses suggest that Jan painted the impossibly low-ceilinged room over the underdrawn arches in the Annunciation, turned the ewer in the niche to emphasize its volume and was entirely responsible for the lunette figures, perhaps with an assistant for the Prophets. Inside, he increased the angle of the angels’ furniture and revised the fingering of the musicians to correspond to the playing of actual music, painted the Mediterranean vegetation over Hubert’s northern woods and added the fountain and the crown at Christ’s feet. His Adam and Eve are modelled on those of Masolino in the Brancacci Chapel in S Maria del Carmine, Florence.

Hubert van Eyck, completed by Jan van Eyck: Ghent Altarpiece, oil on panel, 3.65×4.87 m (wings open), c. 1423–32 (Ghent, St Bavo); Photo credit: Giraudon/Art Resource, NY

In 1432 Jan bought a house, on which he paid a quit-rent each midsummer to the chapter of St Donatian. On 17 July he received the two burgomasters and some of the aldermen, inspecting some work, perhaps a panel similar to the Virgin of the Councillors (1443–5; Barcelona, Mus. A. Catalunya) of Lluís Dalmau, who was then in Bruges, which combines motifs from the Ghent retable with some used in Jan’s later works. Jan received a similar visit from the Duke in the autumn, but what Philip came to see remains unknown. Recently married, he became a father in 1434, naming the child after its godfather, the Duke, who made his customary present of six silver cups. In 1435 Jan gilded and painted six statues and tabernacles for the façade of the town hall, while two more were executed by painters who may have been his assistants, Willem van Tongeren and Jan van der Driessche. He also went to Arras at the Duke’s behest, where he probably painted the original of St Jerome in his Study (untraced; copy in Detroit, Mus. A.) as a gift from the Duke to the papal legate, Cardinal Niccolò Albergati, who presided at the congress. Since no baptism is mentioned, the panel may have been the reason for another gift of silver cups, smaller ones this time.

Except for the visit to Arras and a long journey to a distant region, probably the Holy Land, in 1436, Jan spent his remaining years in Bruges. He painted at least two portraits of Philip the Good (untraced; copies in Gotha, Schloss Friedenstein; Madrid, Pal. Real; Ghent, Mus. S. Kst.) and a Mappa mundi (untraced), perhaps to further Philip’s plans for a crusade. Calling the last ‘the most perfect work of our age’, Bartolomeo Fazio reported that the distances between the atmospherically depicted sites could actually be calculated, presumably by means of coordinates. To paint these small pictures, probably on parchment, required experience as an illuminator. Like all ducal servants, Jan served as the Duke’s agent in the realm of his expertise, in 1439 hiring Jean Creve of Bruges ( fl 1427–40) to come to Lille and paint hundreds of gold initials, the only decoration, in a book for the Duke. In 1441, he bought Philip some paintings on panel, together with ‘other secret things’. He was still, however, producing paintings; the Holy Face of 30 January 1441 (modern dating; untraced; copies in Bruges, Groenigemus., and ex–U. Durham, Swinburne Coll.) was probably a ducal commission because every one of Philip’s devotional manuscripts contains a replica.

Jan van Eyck’s service for Philip the Good did not prevent him from receiving commissions from other patrons. The Virgin and Child with Chancellor Rolin (Paris, Louvre) was ordered by Nicolas Rolin (see Rolin, (1)) for his family chapel in Autun. The clothing styles and an indulgence granted by Cardinal Albergati to encourage visitors to the chapel in 1432, probably because the decoration was complete, suggest that Jan painted the picture around 1431. Jan also painted portraits of members of the nobility, Baudouin de Lannoy (d 1474), one of the leaders of the delegation to Portugal (Berlin, Gemäldegal.), and a Lord of Berlaimont, identified by the collector Peter Stevens (1590–1668) as the sitter of the signed and dated portrait of the Man in a Red Chaperon (traditionally known as the Man in a Red Turban, 1433; London, N.G.). The direct gaze has caused the painting to be seen as a self-portrait, but the sitter is older than Jan’s probable age at the time.

Jan van Eyck: Virgin and Child with Chancellor Rolin, oil on panel, c. 1430 (Paris, Musée du Louvre); Photo credit: Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY

Many of Jan van Eyck’s patrons belonged to the Italian colony in Bruges. The earliest known full-length double portrait, of Giovanni Arnolfini and Giovanna Cenami (traditionally known as the Arnolfini Marriage or Betrothal, 1434; London, N.G.), was painted to commemorate the betrothal of this successful Lucchese merchant (d 1472), who supplied most of Philip the Good’s enormous purchases of silk and velvet. The inscription on the wall of the richly furnished room recording that Jan ‘was here’ may mean that he was a witness to the agreement, one of the two men reflected in the mirror. The picture also contains allegorical allusions to the marriage bond. Arnolfini is also the probable sitter in a later portrait (Berlin, Gemäldegal.). The Genoese Battista Lomellini commissioned a triptych (untraced) described by Fazio as showing the Annunciation with St John the Baptist and St Jerome in his Study on the wings and lifelike portraits of the donor and his wife on the exterior. The little signed and dated triptych with the Virgin and Child as the central panel (1437; Dresden, Gemäldegal. Alte Meister) may have borne, before they were overpainted by the arms of Michele Giustiniani of Genoa, those of Michiel Bollemard, or Burlamacchi, a son-in-law of the Duke’s banker, Filippo Rapondi (Dhanens, 1980). The Virgin and Child are set in a church, the aisles of which are continued on the wings where the attendant figures of St Michael and the Donor (left) and St Catherine (right) are depicted. On the reverse of the wings is the Annunciation, painted in grisaille. Anselm Adornes, a member of a Genoese family settled in Bruges, acquired the Stigmatization of St Francis (Turin, Gal. Sabauda) together with an excellent smaller replica from the painter’s shop (Philadelphia, PA, Mus. A.). The composition includes a fairly accurate representation of the cliff at La Verna, which Jan may have visited during one of his foreign journeys.

Jan van Eyck: Giovanni Arnolfini and Giovanna Cenami, oil on panel, 818×597 mm, 1434 (London, National Gallery); Photo credit: Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY

For his own milieu Jan painted isolated portraits. In 1432 he portrayed a man identified by the inscription on the parapet as ‘Tymotheos’, probably Philip’s court composer Gilles Binchois (London, N.G.), in 1436 the goldsmith Jan de Leeuw (Vienna, Ksthist. Mus.) and in 1439 his wife Margaret van Eyck (Bruges, Groeningemus.). Like his portraits of more exalted sitters, they represent an important advance, with the bust- or half-length figure filling a plain background and turned three-quarters towards a light source from the left that leaves the nearer cheek in shadow. The sitter’s steady gaze is usually averted, the personality held in powerful reserve.

Jan van Eyck: Jan de Leeuw, a goldsmith of Bruges, oil on panel, 245×1290 mm, 1436 (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Gemäldegalerie); photo credit: Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY

Among the clergy, Georg van der Paele (d 1443), canon of the church of St Donatian, Bruges, ordered a large picture, the Virgin and Child with SS Donatian and George and the Donor (1436; Bruges, Groeningemus.), to commemorate his founding of a chaplaincy two years earlier. The composition of the Virgin and Child between the patron saints of the church with the kneeling donor conforms to local tomb reliefs, indicating that the panel was planned to hang by the canon’s grave in the church.

Nicholas van Maelbeke (d 1445), provost of the cathedral of St Martin, Ypres, commissioned a triptych (possibly Warwick Castle; drgs Nuremberg, Ger. Nmus. and Vienna, Albertina), the execution of which may have been interrupted by the painter’s death since it was still unfinished in the 16th century (d’Heere, van Vaernewijck). The central panel showed the kneeling cleric and a standing Virgin and Child in an arcade opening on to a landscape while the wings contained typological scenes from the Speculum humanae salvationis alluding to the Virgin’s purity. In Jan’s mature works richly clothed figures are generally surrounded by objects and settings depicted with an illusionism that makes them more splendid than in life. Although some include a distant panorama, all present one or two large figures immobile in unchanging sunlight. The evolution of the style is hard to discern, because of the short period in which they were made, their difference from the early narrative scenes and the use of a harder technique for the large church panels than in the small private works (Sterling, see below). Nevertheless, the technique becomes even lighter and the figures are smaller and more fused with the atmosphere in the latest of the finished works: the small Dresden triptych; the Madonna at the Fountain (1439; Antwerp, Kon. Mus. S. Kst.); and the Virgin and Child in a Church (Berlin, Gemäldegal.), which in the 19th century had a date, 1440, on a brass plate that may have been copied from the inscription on the original frame. The painting is the left half of a small devotional diptych, the other half of which (untraced) contained, judging from the most faithful copy (Antwerp, Kon. Mus. S. Kst.), by the Master of 1499, a portrait of the owner praying in his bedroom.

(iv) Other lost works.

The religious nature of those works that survive besides portraits should not obscure the importance of Jan’s lost secular creations. His scenes of women bathing were particularly popular. A lost picture of one being helped by a maid to take a sponge bath, formerly in the collections of Cornelis van der Geest and Peeter Stevens, was reproduced in Willem van Haecht (ii)’s Archduke Albert Visiting the Cabinet of Cornelis van der Geest (1628; Antwerp, Rubenshuis) and copied on a panel (Cambridge, MA, Fogg). Fazio described another, of beautiful women emerging from a bath, their intimate parts veiled in fine linen, including one in half-length whose whole back is seen in a mirror, against a background that included a lantern in the chamber, an old woman, a puppy lapping water and, presumably through a window, horses, men, mountains and woods with villages and castles. The mysterious German Spell of Love (Leipzig, Mus. Bild. Kst.) may be a copy of an Eyckian original: a woman standing nude before an open hearth on a flower-strewn floor sprinkles a powdery substance into a casket as a young man peers through a door at the rear. Jan seems also to have started the long tradition of the commerce picture: Marcantonio Michiel saw one in Milan of a merchant going over accounts with his agent, dated 1440, the year before the painter’s death, which, according to chroniclers, occurred at an early age. As a ducal servant, Jan was buried in St Donatian, Bruges, at first in the cloister and then inside the church, near the font. The tombstone, destroyed with the church, bore a brass shield with the emblem of the painters’ guild in the centre and inscribed banderoles carved on a rim.

2. Working methods and technique.

The survival of both the preparatory drawing (Dresden, Kupferstichkab.) for a portrait of an unknown man, whose secular gown and haircut contradict the usual identification as Cardinal Niccolò Albergati, and the finished painting (1431–2; Vienna, Ksthist. Mus.), combined with microchemical stratigraphic studies and photographs in various kinds of light, provide insights into Jan van Eyck’s working methods. In the drawing, in silverpoint on prepared paper, the head is fully developed through many short strokes. These are multiplied along the contours and laid down in an overall web of parallel hatching that gives mobility to the face, suggesting the sitter’s detached humour. In the more summarily drawn body and background, the strokes are limited to the contours and parallel hatching is used only for shadows and the rounding of the shoulder. Next to the head the painter inscribed colour notes concerning the sitter’s features. Such portrait drawings were transferred to the panel with a good deal of freedom, although there appear to be pouncing marks in the underdrawing of the head of Canon van der Paele. The more complicated compositions were drawn directly on the chalk ground of the panel, while some ruled lines for perspective in the architecture and what may be a module in the floor tiles have been found under the Annunciation (Washington, DC, N.G.A.). In this and other interiors the orthogonals lead to as many as four vanishing areas, which reduces the depth and slows the rate of foreshortening (Elkins). Using a pen or brush and an aqueous solution of black pigment and glue, Jan frequently drew on top of the isolating layer of brownish drying emulsion. In the early authenticated works, such as the Rolin Virgin and Child, the drawing is similar to Hubert van Eyck’s, but contains more modelling at the centre of forms; this increases in later works, where a full web of hatching creates volume in areas of flesh and drapery. The hatching is intensified in areas of shadow and a wash of ink or watercolour is often added for the darkest ones. This technique, on a polished chalk ground (the sulphurous colours in the sky being a later addition), almost certainly reveals the signed and dated St Barbara (1437; Antwerp, Kon. Mus. S. Kst.) as an unfinished painting, which Jan then elaborated, adding figures to the landscape, to make an independent picture. Any modifications in the underdrawing usually enhance the solidity of forms or the movement of figures, particularly in hands and feet, although others expose more of a nude body or bare head. Both types betray the overriding concern for realism that is the essence of Jan’s style.

The forms were then broadly modelled in a base of translucent greyish underpainting, reserving sections of the light beige ground in the areas of sky. Local colours were then applied in tinted glazes of oil, exploiting the reflection through these glazes of natural light striking the underpainting. Small amounts of lead white were added in flesh areas to increase the reflection. The first of the individually coloured layers was a middle tone and as many as six glazes were superimposed in lighter and darker shades, to reinforce the modelling and to add density to the medium. The finished painting, varnished for protection, reflected light like a jewel.

The brushwork varies according to the size of the picture (Sterling). In small works made for close perusal, Jan used the apparently more congenial technique of tiny strokes of colour to represent scintillating water, fine hair and gold. Large-scale works—the foreground of the Rolin Virgin and Child, the van der Paele Virgin and Child and the triptych of which the Washington Annunciation was the left wing—were painted in a technique similar to Hubert’s, with invisible strokes that created a perfectly smooth surface. The two techniques are combined in such middle-sized works as the Rolin Virgin and Child and the Lucca Virgin and Child (Frankfurt am Main, Städel. Kstinst. & Städt. Gal.), with visible strokes for the painterly forms in the background.

To assist him, Jan had a workshop, which was probably responsible for the Crucifixion (Berlin, Gemäldegal.), the St Jerome in his Study (1442; Detroit, MI, Inst. A.), which is the best replica of Albergati’s panel, the Virgin and Child with SS Barbara and Elizabeth and Jan Vos (New York, Frick), and the copy on parchment (Philadelphia, Mus. A.) of the St Francis. About 1440 the painter joined a group of Bruges illuminators in the first of the Flemish campaigns to complete the Turin–Milan Hours. The shop, whose paintings contain motifs from original works by Jan probably found in the shop’s collection of patterns, seems to have continued for a while after his death.

3. Iconography.

The content of Jan van Eyck’s works is as many-layered as their physical structure. Their meticulous realism is only what the viewer first encounters: for Jan’s contemporaries the paintings resonated with theological overtones. Inscriptions proliferate. Throughout Jan’s career he painted full inscriptions on the frame, but in the early paintings there are also words on banderoles, emerging from the mouths of figures, worked into the hem of a garment or chiselled in the stone of a parapet. While most of the texts are derived from the medieval commentaries or compendia of St Augustine, Honorius Augustodunensis and Gerhard van Vliederhoven as well as Rupert of Deutz, a high proportion from the Old Testament and the Book of Revelation reflects the renewed interest in them that began c. 1400. The content is exalted and metaphorical: these pictures were made to be read as well as seen.

They also abound in pictorial metaphor or, less exactly, ‘disguised symbolism’. Fountains, flowers and enclosed gardens symbolize the Virgin’s purity; church portals illustrate her epithet, ‘Gate of Heaven’. Reliefs on capitals and thrones show Old Testament types of the Church’s teaching or liturgy. The tower, the attribute of St Barbara, is behind her in the Antwerp picture, shown under construction in a vivid depiction of current building practice, and the mirror in the Arnolfini double portrait is surrounded by Passion and Resurrection scenes in glass roundels that may refer to the analogy of the relationship between Christ and the Church and that of husband and wife in the epistle reading for the nuptial Mass (Ephesians 5:22–31). Other metaphors are more subtle. The setting of the Rolin Virgin and Child is a watchtower in the Heavenly Jerusalem; the church in the van der Paele Virgin recalls the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem; the Romanesque clerestory above a Gothic arcade in the Washington Annunciation may signify the descent of the Holy Spirit through the Jewish and Christian eras.

Many of Jan van Eyck’s extant pictures depict the Virgin. Although the subject was chosen by the patron, Jan’s presentation shows him as a considerable Mariologist (Purtle). She appears serene and immobile, even when receiving the news of her election. She is usually shown as a queen amid the trappings of royalty, but her motherhood is occasionally emphasized, in nursing the child in the Lucca Virgin and Child, or teaching him to read, as in the Ince Hall Virgin and Child (Melbourne, N.G. Victoria), a copy of an Eyckian original. The most striking images, however, identify her with the Church. She replaces the altar in the van der Paele and Dresden Virgins and personifies the Church in the Berlin Virgin and Child, where, as a painted version of the sculpted figure on an altar behind her, she stands to triforium height. In the last, there is one remarkable exception to the meticulous realism of the building. The north windows are unnaturally pierced by a shaft of light, illustrating a current metaphor for her virginity (Panofsky) and supporting the inscription on her hem that pronounces her more beautiful than the sun. In the choir vested angels sing Mass before a candlelit altar and the rood screen displays, beside the usual Crucifixion, reliefs of the Annunciation and Coronation of the Virgin, flanking a statue of Simeon, who prophesied the Virgin’s suffering at the Crucifixion.

4. Character and personality.

Jan van Eyck’s paintings reveal him to have been well-educated. Familiar with liturgical and devotional texts, he became acquainted with the commentaries at least in the course of his work. Schooled in Latin, he could reproduce Greek and Hebrew letters, and the language and calligraphy of his signed works indicate that he knew something of legal procedures. He also knew enough geography to make his world map, and Fazio supposed that he learnt about colour from Pliny’s Natural History. A 17th-century description reports a quotation from Ovid on the frame of the Arnolfini double portrait, but the frame may not have been original.

Jan was conscious of his exceptional powers. The signatures and use of a motto are almost unique at this time. The motto, ‘As I can’, in the tradition of medieval scribal humility, is also a statement of pride in his accomplishment, and the careful dating and signing of his works suggest that he saw them as documenting his creativity. Furthermore, a remarkable self-assurance guided his relations with Philip the Good. Already in 1428 the Duke exempted Jan from the reduction in salary that a currency reform had made him order for most of the other retainers. In 1434 he not only changed Jan’s appointment into an exceptional one for life, but raised his salary by 720%. The receiver of Flanders sending the documents to the duchy’s receivers at Lille warned that the painter would institute proceedings with the Duke if they rejected the enormous increase. They did hesitate and Jan not only went to the Duke, but threatened to leave his service. Philip then wrote to the receivers himself, ordering them to comply: because, he wrote, he could not find another painter so much to his liking or so excellent in skill and knowledge as Jan van Eyck.

5. Critical reception and posthumous reputation.

The Duke of Burgundy’s high opinion of Jan van Eyck was universal not only in the Netherlands, where Jan’s epitaph reported that he was the most ingenious painter who ever lived there, but also in Italy, where writers expressed similar praise, and copies of his paintings in many lands reflect the esteem of fellow artists. His influence in the Low Countries was long lasting and more important than has been realized. In Bruges a group of illuminators used patterns from his shop until the early 1460s and other painters made imitations on panel, such as the Virgin and Child in Covarrubias (Burgos, Colegiata de San Cosme y San Damian) and the original of the Ince Hall Virgin and Child (Melbourne, N.G. Victoria). The more independent Petrus Christus, arriving after Jan’s death, probably lacked access to the Eyckian patterns, but studied panels more or less publicly visible in town. His early works reproduce a few figures and compositions and much of Jan’s style. In Ghent, where the Adoration of the Lamb remained one of the town’s major monuments and was enacted in a tableau vivant for the ducal entry in 1458, the Eyckian style seems to have influenced the panels, usually but probably erroneously attributed to Robert Campin, from Flémalle and the lost Descent from the Cross (Frankfurt am Main, Städel. Kstinst. & Städt Gal.; copy in Liverpool, A. Mus.). Hugo van der Goes modelled his Fall of Man (Vienna, Ksthist. Mus.) on the Adam and Eve and used illustrated metaphors in the Portinari Triptych (Florence, Uffizi); according to one tradition, his fatal depression was caused by his failure to equal the great Ghent Altarpiece. During these years the Master of Mary of Burgundy created deep crowd scenes in a style resembling Jan’s early works.

The copying of originals by Jan van Eyck, such as the Madonna at the Fountain and the Holy Face, became an industry in Bruges. Dendrochronological evidence that the Man with the Pink (Berlin, Gemäldegal.) was painted c. 1475 means that the imitation continued throughout the century, but the practice blossomed around 1500. Gerard David and illuminators of the Ghent-Bruges school copied Eyckian works. The Berlin Virgin and Child was copied not only by the Master of 1499 for Abbot Christian de Hondt but also by Jan Gossart for the diplomat Antonio Siciliano. Gossart also copied the central figures of the Ghent Altarpiece in his Christ between the Virgin and St John the Baptist (Madrid, Prado). In Antwerp, Quinten Metsys imitated one of Jan’s lost commerce pictures in the Money Changer and his Wife (1514; Paris, Louvre), to be followed by Marinus van Reymerswaele (e.g. that of 1538; Madrid, Prado).

In Holland, the Master of Zweder van Culemborg continued the style of Jan van Eyck’s Hague period in manuscripts of the 1420s and 1430s, as did a few panel painters. The illuminators of the next generation continued to use the Hand G compositions of the Turin–Milan Hours in the new hard style and, in Haarlem, Albert van Ouwater adopted Eyckian motifs, including the round, arcaded choir of the van der Paele Virgin and Child in his Raising of Lazarus (Berlin, Gemäldegal.). As in the southern Netherlands, there was a revival of Jan’s multi-figured style in the late 1470s, influencing first the Master of the Virgo inter Virgines and then Hieronymus Bosch, whose early Tabletop of the Seven Deadly Sins (Madrid, Prado) contains Eyckian motifs, while the composition of the vertical Carrying of the Cross (Ghent, Mus. S. Kst.) resembles the Crucifixion of the New York diptych.

Jan’s art also made a considerable impact in the upper Rhineland. Konrad Witz isolated solid figures in low rooms in his altar of the Mirror of Human Salvation (c. 1435; Basle, Kstmus.; Berlin, Gemäldegal.; Dijon, Mus. B.-A.); an unknown master of c. 1450 copied the lost St George and the Dragon (Munich, Alte Pin.) and Martin Schongauer made an engraving after the untraced Road to Calvary. Elsewhere in Germany, however, the emotional art of Rogier van der Weyden seems to have been more congenial. In France, the Bedford Master copied the background of the Rolin Virgin and Child in the Dunois Hours (London, BL, MS. Yates Thompson 3) and the whole Madonna at the Fountain in another Book of Hours (San Marino, CA, Huntington Lib., MS. HM 1100), but these are isolated instances. The court preferred the cooler art of Jean Fouquet. The single exception is in Provence, where Barthélemy d’Eyck painted his early panels and manuscripts in a definitely Eyckian style. Since a Virgin in his early Book of Hours (New York, Pierpont Morgan Lib., MS. M. 358) is based on Jan’s late Madonna at the Fountain, the affinity is due not to their common homeland but to the younger artist visiting Flanders and possibly spending time in Jan’s shop.

Jan van Eyck was the first of several south Netherlandish painters to influence Spanish art. The Fountain of Life was imitated in the Bible of the Duke of Alba, while both Lluís Dalmau, who returned in 1436, and the Netherlandish painter Lodewijk van Hallynckbroot [Louis Alimbrot] ( fl 1432–63), who arrived from Bruges in 1439, were active in Valencia; the latter was probably responsible for a triptych with scenes from the Life of Christ (Madrid, Prado) that shows an assortment of Eyckian motifs. Valencia was also the market where Jan’s St George and the Dragon was purchased in 1444 for King Alfonso V. In 1468, a south Netherlandish version of this composition may have inspired the main panel of the altarpiece of St George by Pere Nisart (Palma de Mallorca, Mus. Dioc.).

Jan van Eyck’s influence in Italy was extensive. In Naples, painters learnt the oil technique c. 1440, and Eyckian motifs appear in St Francis Giving the Rule to the Franciscans (Naples, Capodimonte) by Niccolò Colantonio. Slightly later, Alfonso V, ruling Naples from 1442, acquired not only van Eyck’s St George (untraced) but also the Lomellini triptych and a copy, or the original, of Philip the Good’s Mappa mundi (Sterling). Describing these works, Fazio expressed admiration for Jan’s magic realism, effects of light and learned skill. The paintings were frequently copied by local artists, illuminators as well as Colantonio and his pupil Antonello da Messina, who painted the Eyckian St Jerome in his Study (c. 1465; London, N.G.).

In Ferrara, Cyriac of Ancona learnt of Jan van Eyck’s distinction on visiting the Este collection in 1449. In Urbino, Ottaviano Ubaldini delle Carda, nephew of Federigo da Montefeltro, owned the bathing picture described by Fazio. In 1465 Piero della Francesca painted the Triumphs of Federico and his duchess in front of Eyckian mountains and winding streams, and in 1485 Giovanni Santi, praising their colour, wrote that Rogier van der Weyden had been the pupil of the great ‘John of Bruges’ (La vita e le geste di Montefeltro, duca d’Urbino, ed. L. Michelino Tocci, Vatican City, 1985). In Padua, the Ca d’Oro copy of the Crucifixion on a Hill (Padua, Mus. Civ.) was copied by an unknown painter and reproduced more freely by Andrea Mantegna. In Florence, the St Jerome in his Study, in the Medici collection almost certainly before Piero’s death in 1456, was imitated by Lorenzo’s favourite illuminator, Francesco di Antonio del Chierico, from 1457 onwards, and by other illuminators after him; the composition was also used by Sandro Botticelli and Domenico Ghirlandaio in 1480 in their frescoes of St Augustine and St Jerome in the church of Ognissanti, Florence. Botticelli had already copied the landscape of the Stigmatization of St Francis in his Adoration of the Magi (London, N.G.), and Verrocchio reproduced the representation of La Verna in his Baptism (Florence, Uffizi).

Although the influence of south Netherlandish art subsequently declined in Italy, Jan’s reputation persisted in the Low Countries, where the Ghent humanists and van Mander revered him as the founder of their great school of painting. In the 19th century Jan was the first of the so-called Flemish primitives to be studied by the developing critical methods. The oeuvre attributed to him was pared down in the early 20th century, after which scholars turned to the study of his complex iconography. More recent studies have concentrated on the pictures’ technique, patronage and devotional or social function.

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