Jan van Eyck (1395-1441) was the most famous and innovative Flemish painter of the 15th century.

  No record of his birth date survives, but it is believed to have been about 1390; his career, however, is well documented. He was employed (1422-24) at the court of John of Bavaria, count of Holland, at The Hague, and in 1425 he was made court painter and valet de chambre to Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy. He became a close member of the duke's court and undertook several secret missions for him, including a trip (1428-29) to Spain and Portugal in connection with negotiations that resulted in the marriage (1430) of Philip of Burgundy and Isabella of Portugal. Documents show that in 1432-33 van Eyck bought a house in Bruges. He signed and dated a number of paintings between 1432 and 1439, all of which are painted in oil and varnished. According to documents, he was buried on July 9, 1441.

Van Eyck has been credited traditionally with the invention of painting in oils, and, although this is incorrect, there is no doubt that he perfected the technique. Oil painting was already in existence, used to paint sculptures and to glaze over tempera paintings. The van Eyck's' real achievement was the development of a stable varnish that would dry at a consistent rate. This was created with linseed and nut oils, and mixed with resins. He used the oil medium to represent a variety of subjects with striking realism in microscopic detail; for example, he infused painted jewels and precious metals with a glowing inner light by means of subtle glazes over the highlights. Like Robert Campin, van Eyck carefully selected and arranged his subject matter so that it would contribute deeper symbolic meaning to his painting. The meticulous attention to detail in his paintings of architectural interiors and landscapes is also evident in his portraits, painted with unrelenting, dispassionate accuracy.

Van Eyck's inspired observations of light and its effects, executed with technical virtuosity through this new, transparent medium, enabled him to create a brilliant and lucid kind of reality. The invention of this technique transformed the appearance of painting.


"The Marriage of Giovanni Arnolfini and Giovanna Cenani" (1434) Oil on wood, 81.8 x 59.7 cm - 32 1/4 x 23 1/2 in. National Gallery, London, UK.

"The Virgin of Chancellor Rolin" (1433-34) Wood, 66 x 62 cm - 26 x 24 1/2 in. Musée du Louvre, Paris, France.

"The Madonna with Canon van der Paele" (1436) Oil on wood, 157 x 122 cm - 61.8 x 48 in. Groeninge Museum, Bruges, Belgium.

"Portrait of Margareta van Eyck" (1439) Oil on wood, 25.8 x 32.6 cm - 10.16 x 12.83 in. Groeninge Museum, Bruges, Belgium.

"The Ghent Altarpiece (wings open)" (1432) Oil on oak, 461 x 350 cm - 181.5 x 137.8 in. Cathedral of St Bavo, Ghent, Belgium.

"The Ghent Altarpiece (wings closed)" (1432) Oil on oak, 223 x 350 cm - 87.8 x 137.8 in. Cathedral of St Bavo, Ghent, Belgium.

"Portrait of Cardinal Niccolò Albergati" (1431-32) Oil on oak, 27.3 x 34.1 cm - 10.75 x 13.43 in. Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria.

"Portrait of Cardinal Albergati" (circa 1435) Silverpoint on paper, 18 x 21.2 cm - 7.09 x 8.35 in. National Gallery, London, UK.

Text source: 'Webmuseum' (www.ibiblio.org/wm).

Related Artists:

Related Terms: Oil Paint, Tempera.


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