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"Jan van Eyck was here": How the artist created, from which the era of the Northern Renaissance began
"Jan van Eyck was here": How the artist created, from which the era of the Northern Renaissance began

The painting of the Northern Renaissance, which became a consequence of the awakening of Europe from the medieval stagnation, differs from the works of the Italian Renaissance. This originality is the result of the creative path of individual masters, those who set the tone for the entire visual arts of that era. Van Eyck is usually mentioned among such artists in the first place, perhaps also because the techniques of oil painting and the composition of paints are his invention.

Dutch Renaissance painter

Jan van Eyck, largely thanks to which the Dutch Renaissance arose, was born in the town of Maaseik near Maastricht in the province of Limburg. The exact year of his birth is unknown - it is assumed that the artist was born from 1385 to 1390. Van Eyck's studies were certainly influenced by the fact that his older brother Hubert was a sought-after artist. He gave Jan drawing lessons. Subsequently, the brothers worked together a lot, fulfilling orders for painting the altars in cathedrals.

Hubert van Eyck

The younger van Eyck, in addition to painting - his main occupation, was interested in geography, geometry, chemistry, and thanks to his abilities was in good standing with the nobility. He entered the service of Count Johann of Bavaria, whose court was in The Hague, and later became a courtier of the Burgundian Duke Philip III the Good. In 1427, van Eyck was sent by the duke to Portugal to paint a portrait of his future bride, Princess Isabella. The artist created two images, one was sent to Philip by sea, the other by land, but both portraits have not survived to this day. Van Eyck himself returned to Flanders with a wedding cortege.

R. van der Weyden

One of the most significant creations of van Eyck is considered the altar of the Cathedral of Saint Bavo in Ghent, on the painting of which Brother Hubert began to work. In 1426, the elder van Eyck died, and the younger Jan was already completing the work on the altar. As art critics note, even if van Eyck had not created anything in his career except the Ghent Altarpiece, in history he would still have remained one of the greatest representatives of the Early Renaissance. The 24 panels of the altar depict 258 figures, and the entire work demonstrates the new, Vaneik ​​style of painting, which would later develop among other Dutch artists and become the hallmark of the Northern Renaissance.

Interior of the Ghent Altarpiece Outside of the Ghent Altarpiece

Departing from medieval traditions in the visual arts, van Eyck, while retaining religious themes in most of his works, relied on realism. He paid great attention to details, which, on the one hand, gave the plot accuracy, objectivity, and on the other, often had a pronounced symbolic character. Biblical characters and figures of saints in van Eyck were placed in an everyday, "earthly" setting, where each element was carefully and lovingly depicted. In this sense, the influence on the work of van Eyck is noted by another Dutch artist, Robert Kampen, now called the ancestor of the Northern Renaissance traditions.

R. Kampen

Kampen is considered the likely author of the paintings of the Flemalian Altar and the Altar of Merode, executed with much greater realism than all the works of cathedral painting created by that time.Unfortunately, it is difficult to establish the exact authorship of the works of the early Renaissance artists, since there was no custom to sign their paintings until the 15th century.

R. Kampen

Symbolism and mysteries of paintings by van Eyck

Here again, Jan van Eyck became an innovator - one of the first paintings signed by the artist is called "Portrait of the Arnolfini Couple". This is probably the most recognizable work of the Dutch master - and this reputation has been earned both by the amazing quality of writing, which creates the effect of three-dimensional space, immersion in the interior on canvas, and by the ambiguous interpretation of what is happening in the picture, as well as the meaning of individual intriguing details.

Jan van Eyck

Van Eyck is credited with the fame of the inventor of oil paints - in fact, he improved the composition used by the artists of that time. Oil-based paints have been made since the 12th century, but these paints dried out for a long time, and when dried, they quickly lost color and cracked. Van Eyck's broad interests and knowledge in the field of chemistry helped the artist to perfect the composition, making it possible to apply paints in layers, both dense and transparent. Multi-layered brush strokes made it possible to achieve a three-dimensional image, play of light and shadow - this became a feature of the Flemish style of painting.

Fragment of the painting Portrait of the Arnolfini couple

In all likelihood, the painting depicts the merchant Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini at the time of the marriage. The work still causes controversy and differences in the interpretation of the plot. Undoubtedly, in any case, the fact that this work of van Eyck is the first pair portrait in the history of European painting. An interesting signature made by the artist. It is placed not at the bottom of the painting, but between the images of a chandelier and a mirror. Quite unexpected are the words "Jan van Eyck was here" - this reminds not so much of the author's signature as evidence of his presence at some official event.

Fragment of the picture

Other questions arise, for example, when looking at the figure of a bride - apparently not pregnant, despite the seeming signs, at thrown off shoes, reflected in the mirror behind the backs of a man and a woman, and a number of symbols, the solution to which is interesting even after more than half millennia since the creation of the picture.

Old subjects and new painting

Jan van Eyck

A significant part of van Eyck's legacy is devoted to religious subjects, among them - a large number of images of the Virgin Mary. Van Eyck Madonnas are placed in highly realistic interiors, where every detail is carefully written. At the same time, the author tends to violate the proportions - as in the painting "Madonna in the Church", where the figure of Mary seems unnaturally large in the interior of the temple.

Jan van Eyck

"Madonna of Chancellor Rolen" glorified the adviser Philip the Good, the chancellor of Burgundy and Brabant. Most likely, the painting was commissioned for the family chapel by Rolen's son. The canvas depicts three figures - the Virgin Mary, the Infant Jesus and the Chancellor himself. But the viewer's attention cannot but turn to the landscape, which, thanks to the window, is divided into three parts: behind the figure of the Chancellor, houses and city buildings are visible, behind the Madonna - churches. A river separates these two parts, drawing the line between the secular and the spiritual. The river banks are symbolically connected by a bridge.

Jan van Eyck

Since 1431 the artist lived in Bruges, where he built a house and got married. The godfather of the first of ten children of van Eyck and his wife Margaret was Duke Philip the Good. The artist died in 1441. The Dutch art critic Karel van Mander spoke about van Eyck's career as follows:

Jan van Eyck

The Northern Renaissance has its own characteristics. Unlike the masters of the Italian Renaissance, van Eyck and his followers followed the path of creating a new art, rather than reviving ancient traditions. In the paintings of the Dutchman, his personality is read in the external appearance of a person, and the whole composition is harmonious and thoughtful, thanks to the unity of space. Van Eyck also discovered a number of techniques for painting, such as a three-quarter turn.And, undoubtedly, his work is a storehouse of information about everyday life, fashion, traditions of those times, a kind of documentary from the Renaissance period.

Jan van Eyck

Pictures of past centuries, which have become a mirror of a bygone era, in turn sometimes keep the secrets of mirrors - often unsolved.

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