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Who is... Jan Van Eyck?

Betrothal `The marriage of Giovanni Arnolfini and Giovanna Cenami'

The exact date and place of Jan Van Eyck's birth is unknown. The early 1390s is generally accepted as the time of his birth and the place is supposed to be in the eastern province of the Netherlands Limburg. His elder brother, Hubert, is believed to have taught him and the brothers created the Ghent Altarpiece. It was started in 1425 and Jan completed the work after his brother's death.

While in the Ghent Altarpiece, Hubert is given precedence in the inscription, which reads, "The painter Hubrecht Eyck, than whom none was greater began this work, which his brother Jan, who was second to him in art completed," the world of art remembers Jan as the artist who transformed the use of oil paints and for his meticulous record of the world around him.

He served at the court of Duke Johann of Bavaria in Hague till 1425. Then he served at the court of Philip the Good in Burgundy where apart from artistic commissions he did a lot of diplomatic work for Philip including secure the hand of Isabella of Portugal for the Duke in 1428. It was his painting of the bride that fixed the Duke's choice.

In 1430 he settled down in Bruges where he married and his wife bore him a daughter. Philip was the sponsor at the christening. The daughter in later years became a nun at the convent of Maeseyck. He died in Bruges and was buried on July 9, 1441.

New perspective

While Giorgio Vasari wrongly credits Jan Van Eyck with the invention of oil paints, there is no denying the fact that he gave a whole new perspective to oil painting. He perfected the technique - his use of subtle glaze over the highlights to infuse jewels with an inner light in just one example of his artistry. He had the gothic tendency to crowd his work with details and pushed the envelop as far as representation of reality in art was concerned.

His most famous painting, the betrothal of Giovanni Arnolfini, is an amazing work of detail from the carpet and slippers, the rosary on the wall, the little brush beside the bed, the fruit on the window sill, the carving of Saint Margaret, the patron saint of childbirth on the bed, and the presence of the dog representing loyalty. The painting practically doubles up for a marriage certificate with Van Eyck's signature Johannes De Eyck Fuit Hic (Jan Van Eyck was here) displayed prominently. There is also a mirror where the whole scene is reflected including the image of the painter.

While Van Eyck had no worthy pupils, his effect in the world of art is immense like his patron Philip said, he "would never find a man so much to his taste, or such a paragon of science and art."


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