Jan van Eyck: giant of the Northern Early Renaissance
Portrait of a Man (assumed to be a self portrait), 1433. National Gallery London
Portrait of Margaret van Eyck, 1439. Groeningemuseum, Bruges
Brugge (Bruges). Not much has changed
Jan the 15th century giant
Jan van Eyck painted during the Early Renaissance. He was a true innovator and pioneer, making his mark using the new medium of oil paint, and basically kicking off the Northern Renaissance with a new style: objects and figures were painted to look more realistic and three-dimensional and were set within a more convincing space than was seen before this time. His work is of such importance that it has influenced painters throughout the centuries that followed.
Jan van Eyk’s paintings are known for their incredible detail and use of colour. The paintings have a remarkable freshness, even today, which is mind-blowing given these pieces are 600 years old. His painting, in my view, has never been surpassed. The use of colour, bright and at the same time subdued, and the expression of texture, naturalism and realism are nothing short of miraculous.
Around twenty paintings attributed to Jan van Eyck have survived. Among these masterpieces are The Arnolfini Portrait in the National Gallery, London and the Ghent Altarpiece (or Adoration of the Mystic Lamb; Wikipedia). All are incredible when seen close-up. The restoration of the altarpiece was completed in 2019 and the focal point, the face of the Lamb, turned out quite different: it appears that its face had been overpainted in the 16th century. Now the painting has been brought back to its original state, the face of the lamb has an intense gaze and looks fairly ridiculous: see below.
Hubert and Jan van Eyck, Ghent Altarpiece, completed 1432. Saint Bavo Cathedral, Ghent
Ghent Altarpiece, detail. Left: before the restoration
Portrait of a Man: https://youtu.be/VMJK1EDG2X8 (8 minutes)
Arnolfini Portrait: https://youtu.be/wM6d9BOj4Ww (4 minutes)
National Gallery, London
The Met Museum
Van Eyck’s techniques: underdrawing, and use of red paint