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Jan Van Eyck

Jan Van Eyck

(c. 1390 - 1441)
Born: Maaseik, Belgium
Style: Northern Renaissance
Famous Works:
  • The Ghent Altarpiece (1425-32)
  • Man in a Red Turban (1433)
  • The Arnolfini Marriage (1434)
Jan van Eyck was a master realist, perhaps the last of the European masters to favor accurate representations of his subjects, as the Renaissance was ushering in an era of idealized depictions. By all accounts, van Eyck was a learned and confident man, and was held in incredibly high esteem by members of the elite and his contemporaries in the art world. Van Eyck is known for his unparalleled technical ability, as well as the many innovations that he made in oil painting. One characteristic of van Eyck's work in oil is a meticulous and effective use of glazes. By carefully glazing over highlights, the artist was able to give certain objects a glowing quality. Hubert van Eyck, believed to be Jan's brother, started painting the famous Ghent Altarpiece in 1425. Unfortunately he died one year later and Jan completed the twenty predellas that make up the glorious Flemish altarpiece. This work stands as the height of Western art, featuring monumental composition and detailed rendering. Of note are the shocking, jewel-like colors which give the piece an electrifying quality. Another of Jan's triumphs is the Arnolfi Wedding Portrait of 1434. This canvas features carefully positioned objects that lend it a veiled symbolic quality, telling the story of this wealthy merchant and his young bride. The scene is still, and fitted together as if an ornate puzzle. Jan van Eyck is considered among the first artists who successfully understood and used "atmospheric perspective", rendering scenes as they would appear in life to the human eye; objects in the foreground appear sharp, and as the depth of the composition grows, this sharpness decreases. Though likely only in his forties when he died, Jan van Eyck had more than earned his reputation as one of the great masters of Northern Europe.
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