The exact year of Jan van Eyck’s birth is not known, but has been placed between 1390 and 1400; the place may have been Maaseik in the Netherlands, then part of the Duchy of Burgundy. There is very little precise information about his training, and his teacher may have been his elder brother Hubert who died in 1426. Between October 1422 and September 1424 Jan was in The Hague, in the service of the Count of Holland, Jean de Bavière Hainaut. After the count’s death in May 1425 he was on record as the court painter to the duke of Burgundy, Philip the Good, for whom he undertook several journeys and diplomatic missions. The painter was part of the delegation that went to Lisbon in 1428 to negotiate the marriage of the duke and Isabella of Portugal, of whom he painted a portrait. After living in Lille, Van Eyck moved to Bruges in 1431. That same year, his brother Hubert’s unfinished altarpiece with the Adoration of the Lamb was placed in the Cathedral of St. Bavon in Ghent. In 1433 he signed and dated the Virgin and Child known as “di Ince Hall” and the portrait of A Man in a Turban. The Marriage of Giovanni Arnolfini and Giovanna Cenami dates from the following year. Between 1435 and 1437 he painted some major works such as the Madonna with Chancellor Rolin, that may have influenced by the Treaty of Arras (1435), St. Barbara and the Dresden Triptych. He painted the Madonna at the Fountain (signed and dated 1439) and The Lucca Madonna during the last decade of his life. Jan van Eyck died at Bruges in June 1441 as evidenced by the documents for the funeral expenses on record in the church of Saint-Donatien.
The Stigmata of St. Francis
Stylistically related to some of the miniatures of the Turin-Milan Hours, the panel in the Galleria Sabauda is one of two versions of the Stigmata of St. Francis that Jan van Eyck painted around the end of the third decade of the XV century. The Turin panel, that is considerably larger than its “almost twin” in the Philadelphia Art Museum was long considered a copy from his atelier. Recent studies, however, maintain that both are autograph works which in the latter half of the fifteenth century were probably in the collection of Anselmo Adorno, a wealthy man from Genoa who lived in Bruges. His will, in fact, mentions two paintings of St. Francis by Van Eyck that he bequeathed to his two daughters who were nuns.Iconography
St. John the Evangelist, Ghent Altarpiece, detail
terminato nel 1432
Saint John the Evangelist is portrayed with his customary attributes, the chalice with serpents alluding to the legend that the priest of the temple of Diana at Ephesus gave the saint a cup of poison that he drank and survived. The panel is part of the lower register of the external decorations on the Ghent Altarpiece. It was painted in grisaille, imitating a marble statue, complete with pedestal, an expedient that Jan Van Eyck often used during that period, as in the figures of the Angel and the Virgin in the Thyssen Annunciation (1436 circa).Iconography
Ghent Altarpiece (inside)
terminato nel 1432
This polyptych was completed before the end of 1432 the year that it was placed in the Cathedral of St. Bavon in Ghent. The date is part of an inscription that includes the name of the patron, Jodocus Vijd, and mentions the fact that it was begun by Jan’s elder brother, Hubert who died in 1426 (Hubert’s works are known mainly through documents). The polyptych comprises 12 oak panels; the 8 door panels are decorated on both sides. The overall theme of the two registers is the redemption and glorification of the Redeemer, introduced by the outer decorations that are visible when the doors are closed and then elaborated in the inside scenes. In the middle of the upper register is God the Father giving His blessing, flanked by the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist; the two lateral compartments portray Adam and Eve, the Offerings of Abel and Cain and the Killing of Abel. The middle of the lower register is taken up by the main scene, the Adoration of the Lamb with prophets, apostles, patriarchs and saints. In the four compartments on the right and left of the central polyptych are the Judges (the panel is a modern copy of the original that was stolen from the church in 1934) between whom – according to tradition – are portraits of the Van Eyck brothers, the Soldiers of Christ, the Hermits and the Pilgrims. Hubert’s hand has been identified in the three central figures on the upper register and in part of the Adoration of the Lamb, that are of a monumentality foreign to Jan’s style.
Ghent Altarpiece, outside
terminato nel 1432
This polyptych was completed before the end of 1432 the year that it was placed in the Cathedral of St. Bavon in Ghent. The date is part of an inscription that includes the name of the patron, Jodocus Vijd, and mentions the fact that it was begun by Jan’s elder brother, Hubert who died in 1426 (Hubert’s works are known mainly through documents). The polyptych comprises 12 oak panels; the 8 door panels are decorated on both sides. The overall theme of the two registers is the redemption and glorification of the Redeemer. On the closed doors we see the prophets Zechariah and Micha, the Erytrean and Cuman Sibyls, the Annunciation, St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist, and in the two outer compartments the patron, Jodocus Vijd on the left and his wife, Isabelle Borluut on the right, both of whom are kneeling. The two saints are painted in grisaille, imitating marble statues.
A Man in a Turban
Like all of Van Eyck’s portraits, A Man in a Turban is characterized by a careful analysis of physiognomic traits – down to the smallest detail – and yet it lacks emotional intensity. In this case, the mysterious subject, who has been identified as Jan’s father-in-law, or even a self-portrait, looks at the viewer with a penetrating gaze. The painting is still in its original frame that bears the artist’s signature: “JOH[ann]ES DE EYCK ME FECIT AN[n]O MCCCC.33.21. OCTOBRIS” on the bottom and the inscription “A_C IXH XAN (als ich kan... as I can).
The Marriage of Giovanni Arnolfini and Giovanna Cenami
This is one of Jan’s most widely documented paintings. It portrays Giovanni Arnolfini, a merchant from Lucca who settled in Bruges in 1420, and his wife, Giovanna Cenami. It was painted on the occasion of their wedding in 1434. The bridal couple are in the bedroom that is described down to the tiniest detail, and illuminated by the “natural” light streaming in through the window on the left. The mirror on the back wall not only reflects the couple from the back, but also two other figures on the threshold: one dressed in blue – probably Jan himself – and a youth wearing red. They may have been the witnesses to the marriage, according to Panofsky’s convincing interpretation of this painting as a nuptial portrait. The same interpretation can also be attributed to the single lit candle on the six branch candelabrum, and the wooden statue of St. Margaret that is on the back of the chair against the wall. The mirror-frame comprises ten small tondos depicting scenes from the Passion, and above there is the inscription: “Johannes de eyck fuit hic 1434” (Jan van Eyck was here).
This portrait, that was done around 1435, depicts Nicola Albergati of Bologna who was elevated to cardinal by Pope Martin V in 1426. He was appointed ambassador of the Holy See to France and Bruges where he presumably posed for Jan van Eyck. In fact, there is a fine preparatory drawing for this portrait that reveals much about the artist’s methods. The silver point drawing contains a long handwritten note by the artist written in his native dialect, Limbourghese, that carefully explains the colors to use in the painting with much attention to each change in tone.
The Lucca Madonna
Known as the “Lucca Madonna” because it was part of the collection of Carlo Luigi, duke of Lucca in the XIX century, this painting dates from the later part of the artist’s career. The Virgin, who is seated on a throne with four lion figurines – an allusion to Solomon’s throne – has a marked resemblance to Jan’s wife, Magaretha. There is a portrait of Margaretha in the Musée Communal des Beaux-Arts in Bruges: her features, especially the narrow upper lip, broad nose and high eyebrows are very similar to those of the Madonna in the Frankfurt painting. Even Van Ecyk’s contemporaries greatly admired the painting, and Joos van Cleeve copied the group of the Virgin and Child in his Holy Family (New York, Metropolitan Museum).Iconography
Signed and dated at the bottom of the frame, this painting has been the subject of a lively debate concerning the unusual technical rendering. The panel seems to have been sketched in brown using the brush tip on a gesso base. However, it is unclear as to whether it is an unfinished painting or a specific choice by the artist. The meticulous rendering of the details and high level of definition have led some scholars to reject the “unfinished” hypothesis. The composition, that recalls the illustrations in the Turin-Milan Hours, shows the saint in the middle and in the background a grandiose Gothic tower under construction which, however, is shown in full size rather than in miniature. The frame is still the original and was made from the same wood as the support; its false-marble decoration is not unusual in the painter’s corpus.nversa, Musée Royal des Beaux-Arts Signed and dated at the bottom of the frame, this painting has been the subject of a lively debate concerning the unusual technical rendering. The panel seems to have been sketched in brown using the brush tip on a gesso base. However, it is unclear as to whether it is an unfinished painting or a specific choice by the artist. The meticulous rendering of the details and high level of definition have led some scholars to reject the “unfinished” hypothesis. The composition, that recalls the illustrations in the Turin-Milan Hours, shows the saint in the middle and in the background a grandiose Gothic tower under construction which, however, is shown in full size rather than in miniature. The frame is still the original and was made from the same wood as the support; its false-marble decoration is not unusual in the painter’s corpus.Iconography
The Agony in the Garden
This miniature was originally part of the Très Belles Heuresde Notre Dame de Jean de Berry, the extraordinary, highly decorated codex that took approximately sixty years to complete. At the beginning of the XV century it was divided into two parts, one went to Robinet d’Estampes, custodian of Jean de Berry’s jewels (now in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris) and the other to Jean de Bavière who had further work done on the illustrations. They were probably assigned to the atelier of Hubert van Eyck, Jan’s elder brother. The manuscript was once again divided into two sections that came to Italy where they were identified at the end of the XIX century. One part that was in the library of the Regia Università in Turin was destroyed in a fire in 1904, and is only known through photographs. The second was traced to Milan, specifically it was found in the library of Gian Giacomo Trivulzio and was purchased by the Museo Civico d’Arte Antica of Turin in 1935 (hence the title Turin-Milan Hours). The sheet portraying Christ in the Garden, that probably dates from a later decorative campaign belongs to this portion; even today there is no consensus among the critics as to its having been done by Jan. However, the presence of a careful drawing underneath – revealed by reflectography – which bears evident similarities to Jan’s style and methods – make the attribution quite likely.Iconography