His biggest masterpiece is in restoration now
Jan van Eyck produced paintings for private clients in addition to his work at the court. Foremost among these is the Ghent Altarpiece. He painted it for the merchant, financier, and politician Jodocus Vijdts and his wife Elisabeth Borluut. Jan’s brother, Hubert van Eyck, collaborated on this work too. Generally, art historians believe Hubert began it in 1420 and Jan completed it in 1432. Another brother, Lambert, is also mentioned in Burgundian court documents. He may have overseen his brother’s workshop after Jan’s death. Each of the altarpiece’s 12 panels feature intricately rendered biblical figures (some of the earliest subjects painted with oils) frozen in iconic scenes from Christianity.
A few years ago, Belgium’s Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage invested $2.44 million into meticulously chipping away the artwork’s top layer of oils. The first stage of the restoration finished in October 2016, when the outer panels were returned to St Bavo’s Cathedral. At the same time the second phase of the restoration began, that of the 5 lower panels of the opened altarpiece, including the central panel featuring The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. This part of the restoration has recently finished and the third phase will continue in the future.
Here you can listen to a lecture by the head of the conservation of the altarpiece:
Important Art by Jan van EyckProgression of Art
Jan van Eyck is known as an innovator of veristic realism, not only for his meticulous portraiture but also for his stunning panoramic landscapes that appear to recede far into the distance. Predating the naturalistic landscapes of Leonardo da Vinci by over 50 years, paintings such as Saint Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata demonstrate the Eyckian use of atmospheric perspective, and anticipate the later genre of the Baroque Dutch landscape tradition. Jan van Eyck positioned this scene in the rocky mountains of the legend, yet also included a miniature bustling Netherlandish city in the distance using his microscopic painting technique, a common trait of early Netherlandish book illumination and religious paintings. The style of the citys rendering lends credence to the theory of the artists early career as a miniaturist, as the anonymous “Hand G” of the Turin-Milan hours. This small 5-by-7 inch painting depicts an important moment during the saints 40-day fast in the wilderness of Mount Penna (La Verna), when Francis of Assisi experienced a vision and received the stigmata, or wounds of the crucified Christ. The stigmata, which never heals, became the living proof of his holiness. Witness to the event is the crucified figure of Christ, who overlooks the monks, Francis and Leo, clad in the brown and grey habits that identify them as Franciscan. The depiction of the exhausted figures, however, has been described as anatomically awkward, and the two monks are not well integrated within the landscape (these may have been completed by assistants in the artists workshop). Small paintings such as this one were sometimes made to commemorate a successful pilgr, or as a portable devotional piece to accompany the devotee on a journey. Although van Eycks representation of this legend follows the original Franciscan text quite literally, as Joseph J. Rishel of the Philadelphia Museum of Art writes, “the scene is presented as a miracle being witnessed within the context of the whole sweep of nature and human life.” This painting is among the earliest in Northern Renaissance art depicting the life of Saint Francis of Assisi. It was first re-attributed to van Eyck in 1857, a few years before it was discovered to have been mentioned in the will of Anselm Adornes, dated 1470. Adornes was a wealthy cloth merchant, part of the lively textile economy in Bruges, reportedly owned two paintings by van Eyck and left one to each of his daughters who resided at a Carthusian convent near Bruges. Dr. Katherine Luber, former curator of European paintings at the Philadelphia museum wrote about the influence of this early work, stating: “Most Netherlandish copies are indirect quotations of the Saint Francis paintings. Many are by artists who were close to van Eycks workshop, or who lived and worked in Bruges after [van Eycks] death.” She also cites how the influence went beyond Northern Europe to “Florence at least briefly in the early 1470s, as a distinguished group of Florentine artists, including Botticelli, Verrocchio, and Filippino Lippi, copied elements of the rocky landscape and incorporated the motif of the small rock fountain in the foreground into compositions of their own.”
Oil on Parchment or Vellum on Wooden Panel – John G. Johnson Collection, Philadelphia Museum, PA
There are just 20 of his works remaining
There are about 20 surviving paintings that are confidently attributed to van Eyck – from big ones like the Ghent Altarpiece to the illuminated miniatures of the Turin-Milan Hours. All are dated between 1432 and 1439.
What was Jan van Eyck’s contribution to art?
What was Jan van Eyck’s art style?