JAN VAN EYCK (1390-1441) ARTISTIC GENIUS OF THE NORTHERN RENAISSANCE. AN EXPLORATION OF ART IN THE NETHERLANDS , GERMANY AND THE LOW COUNTRIES DURING THE 14TH AND 15TH CENTURIES. PART 2.

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In the second part of my exploration into Jan Van Eyck’s art I will consider Kim Woods and her case study of Van Eyck and other 14th century artists.

” the question mark CF Jan Gossaerth ( a  Fellow artist) remain as to whether these artists consciously sought artistic status unlike most of his contemporaries Van Eyck made a habit of signing his paintings”. [1]. In this posting I will be considering in more depth the status of the artist. One artist who stands out in the Northern Tradition who was actively seeking status was the great German  artist Albrecht Durer.

Woods continues with her commentary of Van Eyck. ” The fact that he did so  on what is thought to be his self portrait may suggest a degree of status-Consciousness and ostentation”. [2].

Till  Holger Borchert  in her study of Van Eyck shows how Jan was a Court painter employed by Philip the Good Duke of Burgundy , in the Netherlands there was no specified countries but dukedoms and principalities. ” Between 1422 and 1425 he is documented in records from the Holland treasurers office and in 1424 he is specifically mentioned as a court painter”. [3].

Holger Borchert describes  how Van Eyck travelled around Holland and Germany with his appointment as court painter. ” Immediately after the death of John of Bavaria Van Eyck left the Hague and went to Bruges. Jan Van Eyck was appointed Court Painter in the personal service of Phillip the Good Duke of Burgundy”.[4].

” Jan Van Eyck was entrusted right from the start with special and as the document puts it ‘secret commissions’.” [5].

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 Holger-  Borchert shows how Van Eyck started on one of his greatest masterpieces the ‘Ghent Altarpiece’. ” After his return from Portugal Jan Van Eyck was primarily occupied with the completion of the Ghent Altarpiece that was installed in and consecrated on 6th May 1432″.[6].

When Van Eyck moved from Lille to Bruges he was mainly concerned to do some private work for many of the wealthy patrons who were associated with Phillip the Good and his court. ” The paintings that Van Eyck produced in Bruges were predominantly private commissions”. [7].

Both brothers Hubert and Jan worked in a definite artistic world as we see with some of the commissions that were carried out by the Van Eyck Brothers.

” The artistic milieu within which the brothers grew up can only be glimpsed in the Norfolk Triptych”. [8].

What is revealed in Jan Van Eyck’s later work is Realism  . He faithfully reproduces in his portraits and in the Ghent Altar piece a masterly appreciation of how to depict figures and places. ” Its striking parallels with Jan’s later paintings are themselves expressions of contemporary trends of illusionism and realism that around 1400 had begun to emerge in works of art north of the Alps”. [9].

Till Holger- Borchert continuing her analysis of Van Eyck’s painting D’oeuvre shows that his technical ability using form , space colour and light make him out  surely to  be the genius of this period.

” Works of these miniaturists (at the papal court in Avignon in France) reveal early innovations in Landscape , illusionism and spatial depth that influenced the creator of the Norfolk Triptych and that reach their high point in the paintings of Jan Van Eyck”. [10].

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Till Holger- Borchert continues with her comments about the intricate and masterly way that the Van Eyck brothers created the Triptych’s for the Ghent altar piece, it could only have been created by masters of that period. This is the time of course of mass ferment in the Catholic Church. Both Martin Luther and the counter reformation would influence artistic practices in the centuries to come.

” The Ghent Altarpiece is the largest , most multi faceted and most complete work created by Jan Van Eyck. It represents a founding work of renaissance painting”.[11]

Continuing with her comments Till Holger-Borchert says ” In terms of content the Ghent altarpiece is a highly sophisticated work that conveys its message of Christian Salvation through the associations and Ideas it evokes in the viewer”. [12].

” The Ghent altarpiece offers an entirely new view of reality that embraces this world and the next and which finds its expression in a previously unknown realism that extends even to the smallest details”. [13].

Till Holger- Borchert explains the role of the person who commissioned the Ghent altarpiece.

” The donor , Joos Vijd (*1439) came from a wealthy and influential family that had belonged to then Ghent patriciate for several generations” [14].

Explaining the role of Vijd Till Holger- Borchert goes on to suggest that he may have been looking for immense status not just in this world but the one to come.

” In commissioning an altarpiece so unparalleled in its proportions Vijd was by no means concerned with saving his place in the hereafter but also with boosting his prestige in the present”. [15].

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Vijd knew the importance of Jan Van Eyck who as court painter to Philip the Good would come well recommended. ” Vijd entrusted the completion of the work to none other than Jan Van Eyck as Valet De Chambre to Phillip the good the painter naturally commanded a particularly high regard which is also reflected onto the donor”. [16].

Till  Holger-Borchert shows how the genius and status of Jan Van Eyck had surpassed even some painters of the Italian renaissance. There is no doubt that his status travelled to the Papal court in France and to the French Monarchy itself.

” By the time he had finished the Ghent altar piece at the very latest Jan Van Eyck had become an artist famed far beyond the bounds of the Netherlands”. [17].

Portraiture was another D’oeuvre that Van Eyck was famed at and they are reflected in the comments of Till   Holger -Borchert.

” Portraits occupy an important position in Van Eyck’s oeuvre”. [18]. ” The emergence of portraiture as an autonomous pictorial genre was caused by a growing consciousness of individual identity after 1400″. [19].

The identification of the genres would not be completed until the 18th and 19th centuries when British art came into its own under Reynolds , Gainsborough , and Hogarth.

This then completes my second part of my  exploration into the art of Jan Van Eyck . In part 3 I will conclude my exploration of this artistic genius of  the 14th Century.

FOOTNOTES

  1. THE CHANGING STATUS OF THE ARTIST : CASE STUDY 4 THE STATUS OF THE ARTIST IN NORTHERN EUROPE BY KIM WOODS. PG. 125.
  2. DITTO PG.125
  3. JAN VAN EYCK TILL HOLGER BORCHERT .PG. 8
  4. DITTO PG.8
  5. DITTO PG.8
  6. DITTO  PG.9
  7. DITTO PG.11
  8. DITTO PG.13
  9. DITTO  PG.13
  10. DITTO PG.13
  11. DITTO PG.17
  12. DITTO PG.26
  13. DITTO PG.26
  14. DITTO PG.31
  15. DITTO PG.32
  16. DITTO PG.32
  17. DITTO PG.33
  18. DITTO PG.35
  19. DITTO PG.35

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