Posted by Art Of Legend India [dot] Com On 11:34 PM
The works of Jan van Eyck are celebrated for their visual splendour and precision of detail. Their brilliant colours and magnificent definition are due to Jan's refinement of the oil-painting technique.
Jan van Eyck was highly praised in his own time, and is traditionally renowned as the founder of the Netherlandish school of painting. His fame rests largely on the illusion of reality he created in his paintings and his delight in naturalistic detail and rich, decorative effects.
Little is known of Van Eyck's early career, and the paintings which survive are those of a mature artist, well-practiced in his craft. Most of Van Eyck's work for Philip of Burgundy was of a decorative and temporary nature, and has long since disappeared. His surviving works were painted for rich and aristocratic patrons, men moving in court circles. For them Van Eyck created majestic Madonnas, rather than the more homely women of his contemporary, Robert Campin, who worked for bourgeois patrons. Even when placing the Virgin and Child in a domestic setting, then popular, Van Eyck elevated his Madonna on a throne-like chair, with a brocaded canopy overhead and rich carpet underfoot. Elsewhere in The Ghent Altarpiece and The Madonna with Canon van der Paele he depicted the material splendour of bejewelled robes and crowns to speak of the richness of heaven.
This was a period of growing demand for life-like portraits, and a time when faith was direct and called for clear and 'real' images of religious doctrine. Van Eyck responded by exploiting his acute powers of observation and his formidable technique to produce unique illusions of reality. Whilst Van Eyck observed the world around him, he never attempted to reproduce it with topographical accuracy. Instead, he used his knowledge to create imaginative landscapes, townscapes and interiors that would appear familiar to his patrons. The background to The Madonna with Chancellor Rolin has the feel of the River Meuse, but the town cannot be identified.
By the 1430s, Van Eyck broke with tradition and refined a new plateau-type composition, where the foreground figures appear to be higher in the imagined space than those in the background. This enabled him to develop his interest in landscapes with far-reaching vistas. He also began to explore the relationship between interior and exterior, looking through a window or over a parapet, and was perhaps the first painter to present the back view of figures gazing into the landscape, in The Madonna with Chancellor Rolin.
The exact, scientific perspective developed in Florence was unknown in Flanders, but Van Eyck explored an empirical method of perspective to paint his interiors. By the time of the compelling Arnolfini Wedding, he was perfectly able to create the novel effect of a real space opening forward, which seemed to continue beyond the frame and include the viewer.
Symbolism is an important element in Van Eyck's religious and secular works. In The Arnolfini Wedding he was concerned to include numerous symbols of faith, without disrupting the overall natural effect. The symbols appear at first sight to be everyday objects, but Van Eyck probably chose them for their traditional symbolism: a lighted candle in a chandelier indicating the presence of God, a griffon terrier, fidelity, a carafe of water, the purity of the Virgin, and a beam of light through a window, the Incarnation.
Vasari and other early biographers credited Van Eyck with the invention of oil painting. In fact it had been known for many years but was used in a limited way. However, in Van Eyck's time, improved varnishes, diluents and driers were distilled, and Jan explored the possibilities of their use with an unprecedented sophistication. He painted on the usual wooden panel covered with a smooth layer of gesso (plaster), then, and after beginning his work with opaque paint, he would apply many thin layers of translucent, oil-based colour glazes to achieve the glowing and luminous effects characteristic of his work.
It was Van Eyck's technical expertise that enabled him to reproduce the visual world convincingly. His figures are enhanced by natural lighting and on occasion he even created the illusion of a foot or angel's wing projecting forward out of the picture. He also delighted in the precise rendering of texture.
Van Eyck's contribution to portraiture was also significant. He abandoned the Gothic tradition of exaggerated physical features in favour of a life-like description of the individual face. He realized that the three-quarter view, with head turned halfway between profile and full-face, could be much more naturalistic than the conventional profile. He understood that if the face was turned towards the light, he could use the shadow playing over the visible side to describe minute details of the surface. With his usual ingenuity, he explored ways to include the hands to greatest effect, and experimented with the impact of a novel device a direct glance out of the picture.
Van Eyck also appears to have given considerable thought to the inclusion of appropriate inscriptions in many of his works. These were often incorporated into the painting itself, or worked into the picture frame. The motto 'As Best I Can' appears several times, reflecting a pride in his work and a becoming humility.
Writer – Marshall Cavendish