Biography: Jan van Eyck
The legacy of the artist Jan van Eyck is shrouded in legend and mystery. He was a combination of an artist, an alchemist, and some might even say a wizard.
The legacy of the artist Jan van Eyck is shrouded in legend and mystery. He was a combination of an artist, an alchemist, and some might even say a wizard. He attained realism in his astoundingly sophisticated work and was previously unheard of in painting. He achieved a high degree of naturalism in rendering shimmering jewels, reflective metals, plush satins and velvets, and even human flesh. It appeared he had invented a new artistic medium.
This idea was codified a century after his death when the Florentine painter and art historian Giorgio Vasari claimed that the Dutch painter had invented oil painting. This myth persisted well into the 19th century. He is recognized as having invented the modern portrait.
Furthermore, the hunt for his illustrious and notoriously guarded recipe for painting has continued for centuries, and the constantly evolving advances in x-ray technology in search of the actual formula of his lustrous and durable oil medium. (The Art Story, n.d.)
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Even though van Eyck is regarded as one of the greatest masters in European art history, there is still much disagreement regarding the artist's life story and even the authorship of some of his works. Those in question include the few paintings identified as van Eyck's earliest creations.
Jan's court position to John of Bavaria is first mentioned in payments from 1424, though it is likely that the job existed earlier. Van Eyck's reputation began to spread with the establishment of a formal painting studio and the hiring of assistants to help him and copy his works, as was customary at the time. His novel method of layering thin oil paint glazes gave viewers at the time an astounding level of realism. Nearly a century later, the painter Giorgio Vasari, an architect, writer, and historian, went so far as to attribute the discovery of oil coloring to the artist. Up until the early 19th century, many people believed the legend that the artist created. In his own time, Jan van Eyck gained recognition for the fine details in both his religious and secular portraiture; during his career; he was tasked with painting the portraits of some of Europe's most influential individuals. (The Art Story, n.d.)
John of Bavaria's possessions and court appointees came under the control of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, following John of Bavaria's death in January 1425. The Duke appointed the painter to his court as soon as possible following the passing of his Dutch-Bavarian cousin, taking pride in the fact that the master, whom he honored and esteemed so highly, was at least formally a member of his entourage.
According to court records, Jan van Eyck was appointed court painter and valet de chambre on May 19, 1425. He was also paid for travel costs from Bruges to Lille in August of the same year. Along with his responsibilities as a court painter, the title of valet gave him official standing in the court, an uncommonly high status for an artist in the early 15th century. His emergence typically followed this appointment as a collectible painter, and from this point on, his court activity has been relatively well documented. Thanks to his extraordinarily well-paid court employment and social standing, Van Eyck maintained his independence from the Bruges painters' guild while maintaining his commissions outside his court responsibilities.
The artist went to Tournai in 1427 to attend a banquet for the feast of St. Lucas, along with notable artists Rogier van der Weyden and Robert Campin. Some claim that he was elevated to senior guild member at this time. The reason for Van Eyck's return visit the following year is unknown. Between 1427 and 1436, Philip the Good sent Jan on missions of the utmost trust described in records as "certain distant and secret journeys." These journeys may have included a pilgrimage for Philip to the Holy Land and extensive travels to Italy, where he met Florentine artists, Masaccio in particular, to England, and possibly to Prague.
Because of his excellent visual memory, he could recall numerous people and historical events that he could use in his paintings forever. During a well-documented diplomatic mission to Lisbon in 1428, he painted two portraits of Princess Isabella of Portugal, who would become Philip's third wife. This trip is better known. One of the paintings was delivered by land, and the other by sea to the Duke. Though Philip received both betrothal portraits, they are now lost, and only copies are left. The confidence in van Eyck during these excursions as the Duke's representative suggests the closeness and admiration Philip had for the artist.
Scott L. Montgomery, an author and lecturer in science and humanities draws attention to a remarkable and perhaps less well-known accomplishment of van Eyck. According to Montgomery, van Eyck is credited with producing the first known naturalistic representations of the moon in Western art, 85 years before Leonardo da Vinci made his drawings of the same subject. He gives this accomplishment "between 1420 and 1437, by the Flemish artist Jan van Eyck, possibly working in part with his brother Hubert." (The Art Story, n.d.)
Van Eyck made portraiture a significant art form by the end of his career. The artist had an extensive network of wealthy clients from around the world who hired him to paint devotional works or take portraits of them. Jan was able to create a convincingly coherent and logical pictorial world with complete physical stillness and brimming with spiritual energy. (The Art Story, n.d.)
The Art Story. (n.d.). www.theartstory.org. Retrieved August 3, 2022, from https://www.theartstory.org/artist/van-eyck-jan/