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Jan van Eyck - The King of Painters

Jan Van Eyck c1390 -1441First created 20 Jun 2005. Version 4.0 13 July 2014. Jerry Tse, London.All rights reserved. Rights belong to their respective owners. Available free for non-commercial and personal use.

He was the king of painters whose perfect and accurate works will never be forgottenJean Lemaire de Belge, 1504.The King of painters

Jan van Eyck was one of the greatest revolutionaries in art. He radically changed the way in which men look at the natural world. His artistic achievements were well-known in Renaissance Italy. Vasari, who wrote about Van Eyck a hundred years later, wrongly attributed the discovery of oil painting to him. Only a few years after his death in 1441, Jan van Eyck was being hailed on both sides of the Alps as one of the greatest painter of the age.

Despite Van Eycks great fame, little is known of his life except for his last years. For the last 16 years of his life, he worked at the court of Philip the Good, The Duke of Burgundy. The Duke made use of his skills as both painter and diplomat, sending him on numerous secret missions.

The works of Jan van Eyck are celebrated for their visual splendor and precision of detail. Their brilliant colours and magnificent definition are due to Jans refinement of the oil-painting technique. 1

European painting made a decisive break, in the 15th century.

Changes took place in Italy and in Flanders (modern day Belgium & Netherlands).

In Italy, it centred around Florence. In Flanders, it centred around the ports of Ghent, Bruges and Antwerp.

Flanders was the financial and cultural centre of Northern Europe; it was amongst the most prosperous places in Europe.Panoramic view of Florence 2003Guild houses Ghent 2002The Northern Renaissance


2In the 15C Western painting made a decisive break with the past. The changes took place in two areas Italy, in the south and the Low Countries in the north (modern Belgium and Netherlands, also known as the Flanders). The Flanders was one of the richest land in Europe. The prosperity was centred around the port of Gent, Brugge (Bruges) and Antwerp.

When the Count of Flanders died in 1384, Flanders was passed to the Duke of Burgundy, Philip II, who married the daughter of the count.

Dukes of Burgundy built a state, including Flanders and Brabant, between France and Germany. Burgundy, the rising star of the 15th century was partitioned after Charles the Bold was killed in the battle in 1477. The Times Atlas of the world. 3rd edition. 1989 p150.

Van Eyck lived under the reign of Philip III, Duke of Burgundy (Philip the Good or Philippe le Bon, 1396-1467). Philip III became Duke of Burgundy in 1419.

Man in Tuban (probably a self-portrait). 1433. Van Eyck.National Gallery. London.

A motto was found on this painting Als ich kan (As I can).Jan van Eyck was born before 1390 but very little is known about his early life before 1422. He moved to Bruges in 1430 and lived there until he died in 1441.

He was one of the greatest and most influential painters. His style was naturalistic, full of realistic details. He belonged to the Early Netherlandish School.

Van Eyck is the first painter who used and mastered the technique of oil painting, which transformed European paintings.

He was employed as a court painter by Philip the Good, the powerful Duke of Burgundy, and enjoyed patronage of the rich and famous. He was also a diplomat and undertook numerous ambassadorial journey for the Duke.Jan van Eyck


3Jan van Eyck was born before 1390 and died in 1441.Early Netherlandish School. He is seen as the forefather of the Flemish Primitive school. He was one of the greatest revolutionaries in art and changed the way in which we look at the natural world.Rogier van der Weyden c.1400-1464 combined van Eycks light and realism with work of religious intensity.Portrait. Man in a red turban, 1433 NG London. Als ich kan (As I can)Jan van Eyck was one of the first artist to use and master the technique of oil painting. He was credited wrongly by Vasari for the discovery of oil painting. Jan van Eyck moved to Bruges probably in 1430 and lived ther he died. His other master pieces. Adoration of the Lamb, 1432. Ghent. The Madonna and Chancellor Rolin, c1435, Louvre. Madonna and Child c1434, Bruges.

Van Eyck was years ahead of his time. He painted his masterpieces even before the famous Renaissance painters were born .

The use of LensVan Eyck painted the mirror on the right. How is it possible that reflections in the mirror appear so realistic, even before the laws of perspective were discovered?

Between the late 1420s and the early 1430s, paintings in Flanders suddenly look more photographic.

Painters in Flanders had discovered the use of the lens to project images, helping them to paint. They employed a device called Camera Obscura.

Camera Obscura is a dark room with an opening for lens. Van Eyck may have used such device.The mirror in the painting.Only 5 years separate the two portraits. Left. Masolino da Panicale c1425. Right Robert Campin c1430.A pair of spectacle painted by Jan Van Eyck in 1434.


5The mirror and the perspective.Why the reflection on the mirror is so accurate. Even before the discovery of the law of perspective.Between the late 1420s and early 1430s, suddenly paintings in Flanders look much more naturalistic, with photographic looking images.It is generally accepted that painters in Flanders discovered the use of lens to project images, which

Comparison of Netherlandish and Italian Portraits

Netherlandish and Italian PortraitsPortrait

Significant progress was made in the decade between 1425 and 1435. The Netherlandish portraits on the top row were more naturalistic..

PortraitGod on the Altarpiece. 1432.Van Eycks PortraitureVan Eycks was a successful portrait painter. His portraits could be frontal, full-length (left), or profile (above) or half-length, three quarter (right) or even double portraits. He was among the first to paint the three quarter pose.

Madonna of Joris van der Paele (Detail - Paele). 1434.

Jan de Leeuw. 1436.

CostumePainted in Italy in 1443, note how the costumes were painted. This was fairly typical of the time.Italian costumes

CostumeComparison of costumes

Drapery painted by van Eyck in c1426 (Left). Massolino painted these costumes in 1426-27 (Right).

CostumeA few years later in 1434 van Eyck painted these draperies and the carpet. What has changed? His mastery of oil painting and the use of optics may have paid an important part. Van Eycks costumes

Italian landscapeAdoration of the Magi (detail). 1423 by Gentile de Fabriano, UffiziSt George and the Princess of Trebizond (detail). 1436 by Pisanello. Church of Sa Anstasia, Verona.Landscape

Italian landscapeLandscape

Pure landscape painting did not exist in early 15C. Inevitably landscape was used as backdrop for some paintings. In this period Italian landscape tended to be representational and marginalised for more worthwhile subjects. Painters were more interested in the laws of perspective to create the illusion of depth as in the above.

Van Eyck introduced extensive use of landscape in his paintings. His landscape was an integral part of the painting and his approach was more naturalistic, carefully depicted the light and shadows. This is the detail view of a city in the Adoration of the Lamb.Van Eycks landscape.Landscape

ArmourComparison of ArmourVan Eyck 1434.Andrea del Castagno c1448.Van Eyck was also years ahead in depicting armours using oil. Mantegna c1460.

The New York Diptych Crucifixion and the Last Judgement. 1425.Religious Painting

Van Eycks Paintings

The New York Diptych Detail CrucifixionReligious Painting

New York Diptych - Details Last JudgementReligious Painting

The Ghent Altarpiece, 1432The Ghent Altarpiece is one of the greatest artistic achievement of 15C (1432). The altarpiece is very large and was painted for the Cathedral of St Bavo. It was began by Hubert Van Eyck, Jans elder brother, but finished by Jan Van Eyck.

The altarpiece was painted on the Exterior and the Interior, which is revealed by opening the panels.

Interior of the altarpieceExterior of the altarpieceGhent Altarpiece

The Ghent Altarpiece - ExteriorWhen Ghent Altarpiece is closed, the paintings on the Exterior tells the story about the coming of Jesus. Ghent Altarpiece

Exterior details - The angel and the sibyl Ghent Altarpiece

The Ghent Altarpiece - InteriorGhent Altarpiece

Ghent Altarpiece 1432Interior details Judges, Soldier and Music

Music Making.Soldier of Christ.Just Judges.

Interior details Adoration of the LambGhent Altarpiece

Ghent Altarpiece 1432Interior details The Lamb and Crowd.

The Crowd.The Sacrificial Lamb.

Ghent Altarpiece 1432Interior details The Church Group

Note how well van Eyck painted the jewellery. This highlighted an advantage of oil paints over tempera.

Ghent Altarpiece 1432Interior details Worshipers

Van de Paele 1434

Paele (right) was painted with bald and wrinkled head, holding his spectacle, which distorted the text in the book. Below is the detail of the costume of St Donatian and St George.

Van de Paele 1434Details Donor, Costume and Armour

The Donor Van de PaeleCostume and armour.

Van de Paele 1434Details Madonna and CanonMadonna and Child.The Donatian.

Madonna of Chancellor Rolin

Nicolas Rolin was Chancellor of Burgundy and Brabant. The three arches are