Spotlight: Jan Van Eyck (1390-1441 AD) – a most influential painter


Jan van Eyck, a Flemish painter, is generally considered one of the most significant Northern European painters of the 15th century – only about 23 surviving works are confidently attributed to him.

When Jan van Eyck’s served for Philip the Good (1425 AD), his reputation and technical ability grew – mostly from his innovative approaches towards the handling and manipulating of oil paint. His revolutionary approach to oil was so profound that a myth, perpetuated by Giorgio Vasari, arose that he had invented oil painting.

It is known from historical record that van Eyck was considered a revolutionary master across northern Europe within his lifetime; his designs and methods were heavily copied and reproduced. His motto, one of the first and still most distinctive signatures in art history, ALS IK KAN (“AS I CAN”) first appeared in 1433 on Portrait of a Man in a Turban, which can be seen as indicative of his emerging self-confidence at the time. The years between 1434 and 1436 are generally considered his high point when he produced works including the Madonna of Chancellor RolinLucca Madonna and Virgin and Child with Canon van der Paele.

Records from 1437 on suggest that he was held in high esteem by the upper ranks of Burgundian nobility while also accepting many foreign commissions. He died young in July 1441, leaving behind many unfinished works to be completed by workshop journeymen; works that are nevertheless today considered major examples of Early Flemish painting. His local and international reputation was aided by his ties to the then political and cultural influence of the Burgundian court.

In the earliest significant source on van Eyck, a 1454 biography in Genoese humanist Bartolomeo Facio’s De viris illustribus, Jan van Eyck is named “the leading painter” of his day. Facio places him among the best artists of the early 15th century, along with Rogier van der Weyden, Gentile da Fabriano, and Pisanello. It is particularly interesting that Facio shows as much enthusiasm for Netherlandish painters as he does for Italian painters.

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