Van Eyck, Hubert and Jan

   Flemish artists, brothers. Another brother, Lambert, and a sister, Margaret, were also painters, but al-most nothing is known about their work. Relatively little is known about Hubert, the elder of the two famous brothers. He seems to have headed a workshop at Ghent and to have died in 1426. Only one painting is securely attributed to him, Three Marys at the Tomb, and it survives only in a copy painted about 1440. Several early van Eyck paintings are variously attributed to Hubert or Jan, such as The Cru-cifixion and The Last Judgment, both dated 1420-1425. Some art his-torians have even speculated that Hubert was a fictitious artist, though this is not the prevailing view.
   Jan van Eyck, on the other hand, is a well documented figure with many surviving paintings, some of them signed and dated. He was born about 1490, worked in the 1420s in Holland and at Lille, but was also active as a member of the court of Duke Philip the Good at Bruges. He not only served as the duke's court painter but also be-came a member of diplomatic delegations in 1426 and 1427 and ex-ecuted an extensive mission in Spain and Portugal in 1428-1429. The most famous van Eyck work is the Ghent Altarpiece, also known as the Altarpiece of the Lamb, a collection of panels that quickly be-came an object of admiration for visitors to the Netherlands. This vast work seems to have been begun by Hubert but was left unfinished when he died in 1426. At some later date, probably not until the early 1430s, Jan took over the project. Since it was finished by 1432 and Jan would have had no time to work on it before January 1430, it seems likely that much of the work had been completed (or brought close to completion) by Hubert before his death, but there is no way to determine which panels are mostly the work of Hubert and which the work of Jan. The most striking parts of the altarpiece are the cen-tral panel in the lower range of the open altarpiece, The Adoration of the Lamb, a symbolic eucharistic scene inspired by the Book of Rev-elation, and the two nude figures of Adam and Eve placed at the far left and right of the upper range of panels.
   Jan settled in Bruges in 1430, married, and purchased an elegant house. After completing the great altarpiece, he continued painting, recognized as the greatest figure of the Flemish school of painting. Many of his works survive. Among the best known of them are Madonnas, of which Madonna and Child with Saints Michael and Catherine (1437) and Madonna with Chancellor Nicolas Rolin (1435) are noteworthy. Jan painted many portraits, of which the early Portrait of Tymotheos (1432), probably a portrait of the court musi-cian Gilles Binchois, and Man in a Red Turban (ca. 1433), perhaps a self-portrait of the artist, are the most striking. In a class by itself is his Arnolfini Wedding Portrait (1434), which is more than a wedding picture of an Italian merchant and his bride, but is intended to be a le-gal record of the marriage and contains a number of striking symbolic elements including a representation of the artist himself reflected in a mirror, present because he is a witness to the wedding vows. The work of Jan van Eyck (especially, but not exclusively, the great altar-piece) was widely admired, not only in the Netherlands but in many parts of Europe. Some of the earliest enthusiastic descriptions of his work were written by Italian travellers.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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