Jan van Eyck

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Man in a Red Turban (1433; Self-Portrait?), National Gallery of London
Madonna in the Church (1426), Gemäldegalerie Berlin

Jan van Eyck (* around 1390 in Maaseik ; † 1441 in Bruges ) was a Flemish painter of the late Middle Ages and is considered the founder and at the same time the most famous representative of ancient Dutch painting . He initiated the new naturalistic art epoch north of the Alps . Because of his perfect painting technique and his sense of realistic representation, many authors have even referred to him as the “king among painters”.


The artist was born around 1390 in Maaseik, a small town 25 km north of Maastricht . Despite intensive research, his youth is in the dark. Although the source situation improves from 1422, there is still a lack of knowledge about his works. To make matters worse, a large part of his work is no longer preserved. With whom van Eyck apprenticed is unknown. He made his early works in the style of an illuminator . He was first mentioned in a document in 1422, when he entered the service of Duke Johann of Bavaria , the Count of Holland. His position was that of a valet (French valet de chambre ), and from then on he worked as a court painter for the painting of the inner courtyard of the residence at The Hague .

After the Duke's death in 1425, van Eyck found employment with Philip the Good . His reputation as a painter had brought him to what was then the most splendid court in Europe, namely to Lille, because because of his abilities he was “of which the Duke had heard from people in his service, and of whom he, too, in the person of Jan van Eyck recognized “, has been discontinued. His contract was limited to one year, but the extension clause meant that van Eyck spent many years at the court of Philip III. stayed. His area of ​​responsibility was not limited to painting portraits and decorating princely residences, but was also responsible for the design of elegant court clothes, jewelry for festive ceremonies or for the organization of tournaments and other festivities. Other tasks included painting signs, banners and setting statues.

In addition to painting, Jan van Eyck also fulfilled diplomatic assignments. Philipp sent him on several trips abroad within ten years. During one of these missions he took part in a festival of St. Luke on October 18, 1426 in Tournai . It is believed that it was here that he met the artists Robert Campin (?), Rogier van der Weyden and Jacques Daret . In 1427 he traveled to Valencia, after which he belonged to a delegation to Portugal (1428), which stopped in Philip's name for the daughter of King John I , Isabella . Jan van Eyck painted the Infanta so that his master could get an idea of ​​his future bride. From 1430 until his death he worked in Bruges again.

Undoubtedly his main work is the Ghent Altarpiece from around 1435, which he is said to have started with his supposed brother Hubert van Eyck . This polyptych is a masterpiece of fine painting and the largest known work of Old Dutch painting. From this time on he also worked for private clients. For the Chancellor Nicolas Rolin he painted a Madonna with the praying donor of the picture as her counterpart, depicted in the style of a 'silent devotion'. For the city of Bruges he created six gilded statues that were intended for the facade of the town hall. In 1433 he married Margarete and bought a house in the court and embassy district of Bruges. Philip the Good showed the artist his respect by sponsoring one of Van Eyck's two children. In 1436 he went on his last secret mission. After sixteen years in the service of the Duke, van Eyck died in Bruges in 1441, where he was buried on July 9th in the church of Sint-Donaas .

History of the Ghent Altarpiece

Ghent Altarpiece : In 1934 the panels with the Just Judges and John the Baptist were stolen. The latter was returned. However, a
ransom of one million Belgian francs ( € 24,789 ) was demanded for the far more valuable Just Judges , probably from Arseen Goedertier . Since the sum was not paid, there was no return. The picture is still lost.

His most famous work is the monumental Ghent Altarpiece .

An inscription that Hubert van Eyck called the creator and greatest painters, Jan van Eyck, however called the Second in art, who had finished the work, is on the framing of the Ghent Altarpiece.

P (ic) tor Hubertus eeyck ♦ maıor quo nemo repertus
Incepıt ♦ pondus ♦ q (ue) Johannes arte secundus
(Frater per) fecıt ♦ Judocı Vıȷd prece fecıt
V ers u se x ta M a ıv os c o ll o c at a c ta t u er ı
The painter Hubert Eyck, the greatest who ever found himself, began this work, and his brother Johannes, second in art, completed the difficult task, following the request of Joos Vijd. With this poem he allows you to see what has been accomplished on May 6th.

For generations, various art historians interpreted these lines as contemporary, until an X-ray examination in 1950 suggested that they should be viewed as an afterthought. When Albrecht Dürer visited the altar in April 1521, he stated: “On Wednesday morning they took me to S. Johannes thurn; then I saw the great, wonderful place, in which I was immediately looked at. Then I saw John's table; that is a delicious, highly sensible choice, and especially Eve, Mary and God the Father are almost good. ”He did not mention an inscription. The author Hieronymus Münzer also did not report anything about Hubert in the first reliable source from 1496, in which the altar is mentioned .

In 1995, in his study on the Ghent Altarpiece, Volker Herzner put forward the thesis that Jan van Eyck was the sole creator of the altar, which van Asperen de Boer saw confirmed in 1979 by X-ray reflectograms of the signature. Due to more recent findings in the course of the renovation, which has been ongoing since 2012, some art scholars, in contrast, take the position that there is no reason to doubt the authenticity of the inscription on the first version of the frame and thus Hubert van Eyck's involvement.

Art historical importance

With the works of Jan van Eyck, Robert Campin and Rogier van der Weyden , a new era of painting begins , which is characterized by lovingly realistic detailed descriptions. Since in many cases there are images of religious content in which saints are depicted, the realistic depiction brings “the sacred into the house” and enables the viewer to gain new direct access to the religious.

A new era also began in terms of painting technique with van Eyck. In addition to the traditional tempera and water-based glue paint systems, he also frequently used oil paints . Giorgio Vasari described Jan van Eyck as the inventor of oil painting , which is incorrect, because oil resin painting was also known earlier, for example in the Strasbourg painter's book (if this manuscript, as Ernst Berger suspected, can be dated as early as 1400) and in the Barrel painters, i.e. those who gilded or painted wooden sculptures (etymolog. Meaning of 'to grasp' = to enclose). Jan van Eyck, however, was probably the first painter to use siccative and bleached oils (for corrections), to show the potential of oil painting through its new colourfulness with its varied nuances within panel painting, and to also apply it to a greater extent. His works were fundamental to overcoming medieval traditions in European painting and can be found in all major museums.

Works (selection)

"Image title" sorts the secular images on top, then the religious themes.

Image title year Location (city, museum)
Ghent Altarpiece around 1425-1435 Ghent, St. Bavo Cathedral
Madonna in the church 1426 Berlin, Gemäldegalerie
Portrait of a man with the blue ribbon around 1429 Sibiu (Hermannstadt), Brukenthal painting collection
Portrait of Cardinal Niccolò Albergati around 1432 Vienna, Art History Museum
Portrait of a Young Man (Timothy) 1432 London, National Gallery
The Arnolfini wedding 1434 London, National Gallery
Annunciation (panel) around 1434-1436 Washington, National Gallery of Art
Annunciation (diptych) around 1435 Madrid, Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum
Lucca Madonna around 1435 Frankfurt Städelsches Kunstinstitut
Portrait of Jan de Leeuw 1436 Vienna, Art History Museum
Madonna of Canon van der Paele 1436 Bruges, Groeninge Museum
Portrait of Baudouin de Lannoy around 1436-1438 Berlin, Gemäldegalerie
Dresden Marien Altar around 1437 Dresden , Old Masters Picture Gallery
Portrait of Margarethe van Eyck 1439 Bruges, Groeninge Museum
Crucifixion. Last Judgment (winged altar) around 1440/41 New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Christ on the cross undated Berlin, Gemäldegalerie
Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini undated Berlin, Gemäldegalerie

See also: Woman at the toilet , received as a copy




Jan van Eyck noted his signature with the year and the addition 'als ixh xan' in German in the hollow of the frame in the middle altar of the Dresden Marien Altar: as best I can .


in alphabetical order by authors / editors

  • Ludwig Baldass : Jan van Eyck . Phaidon-Verlag, Cologne 1952.
  • Hermann Beenken : Hubert and Jan van Eyck. Bruckmann, Munich 1941; 2nd edition ibid 1943.
  • Hans Belting , Dagmar Eichberger: Jan van Eyck as a narrator: Early panel paintings around the New York double panel . Wernersche Verlagsgesellschaft, Worms 1983. Paperback: ISBN 978-3-88462-025-0 ; Textile binding: ISBN 978-3-88462-026-7 (with a not generally recognized overview of the research history of the van Eyck brothers)
  • Till-Holger Borchert (Ed.): Jan van Eyck and his time. Flemish Masters and the South 1430–1530 . Belser-Verlag, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-7630-2398-4 (exhibition catalog).
  • Elisabeth Dhanens: Hubert and Jan van Eyck. Langewiesche, Königstein / Taunus 1980, ISBN 3-7845-9190-6 . (Dutch original edition: Elisabeth Dhanens: Hubert en Jan van Eyck . Mercatorfonds, Antwerp 1980)
  • Max Dvorák : The Riddle of the Art of the Van Eyck Brothers. With an appendix about the beginnings of Dutch painting In: Yearbook of the Art History Collections in Vienna, Vol. 24, 1904, pp. 162-317 (reprinted by WUV-Universitäts-Verlag, Vienna 1999, ISBN 3-85114-415-5 ).
  • Dagmar Eichberger: Image conception and world interpretation in the New York diptych by Jan van Eyck . Dr. Ludwig Reichert, Wiesbaden 1987, ISBN 978-3-88226-366-4
  • Daniela Hammer-Tugendhat: Jan van Eyck: Autonomization of the nude image and gender difference. In: Anja Zimmermann (Ed.), Art History and Gender. An introduction , Berlin 2006. Commented reprint of an article from 1989 that was published in: Detlef Hoffmann (Ed.): Der nackte Mensch . Jonas Verlag, Marburg / Lahn 1989 = critical reports 1989/3.
  • Volker Herzner : Jan van Eyck and the Ghent Altarpiece . Wernersche Verlagsgesellschaft, Worms 1995, ISBN 3-88462-125-4
  • Thomas Ketelsen, Uta Neidhardt: The secret of Jan van Eyck. The early Dutch drawings and paintings in Dresden . Deutscher Kunstverlag, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-422-06566-0
  • Alexander Kirchhof, Martin Missfeldt: Jan van Eyck, The Madonna in the Church . Duplicon Publications, Berlin 2000, ISBN 3-936697-03-5 . (1 CD-ROM)
  • Otto Pächt : Van Eyck. The founders of old Dutch painting . Prestel, Munich 1989, 3rd edition 2002, ISBN 3-7913-2720-8 .
  • Ludwig Scheewe : Hubert and Jan van Eyck. Your literary appreciation until the 18th century. Nijhoff, The Hague 1933 ( digitized version ).
  • Norbert Schneider : Jan van Eyck, The Ghent Altarpiece . Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verlag, Frankfurt / Main 1997, ISBN 3-596-23933-8 .
  • Johanna Schopenhauer : Johann van Eyck and his successors. 2 volumes. Frankfurt / M. 1822 ( digitized volume 1 ).
  • Adolphe Siret:  Eyck, van . In: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB). Volume 6, Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig 1877, pp. 778-793.
  • Gilbert Sinoué: The Secret of Flanders . Droemer Knaur, 2002, ISBN 3-426-62249-1 (novel about van Eyck's diplomatic activities).

Web links

Commons : Jan van Eyck  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Christina Meckelnborg: The inscription of the Ghent Altarpiece - a philological consideration . In: Stephan Kemperdick and Johannes Rößler (eds.): The Ghent Altarpiece by the van Eyck brothers . Publication accompanying the exhibition The Ghent Altarpiece by the van Eyck brothers in Berlin. 1820-1920 . State Museums in Berlin - Prussian Cultural Heritage 2014, p. 114 f. ISBN 978-3-7319-0089-4 .
  2. Christina Meckelnborg: The inscription of the Ghent Altarpiece - a philological consideration . In: Stephan Kemperdick and Johannes Rößler (eds.): The Ghent Altarpiece by the van Eyck brothers . Publication accompanying the exhibition The Ghent Altarpiece by the van Eyck brothers in Berlin. 1820-1920 . National Museums in Berlin - Prussian Cultural Heritage 2014, p. 119. ISBN 978-3-7319-0089-4 .
  3. Jane Campbell Hutchinson: Albrecht Dürer . Frankfurt / New York 1994, p. 204.
  4. Stephan Kemperdick: The history of the Ghent Altarpiece . In: Stephan Kemperdick and Johannes Rößler (eds.): The Ghent Altarpiece by the van Eyck brothers . Publication accompanying the exhibition The Ghent Altarpiece by the van Eyck brothers in Berlin. 1820-1920 . Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz 2014, p. 22 (see also note 36). ISBN 978-3-7319-0089-4 .