van Eyck, Jan (ca. 1385–1441)
van Eyck, Jan (ca. 1385–1441)
Flemish artist who pioneered new methods of painting at the dawn of the Renaissance in northern Europe. Born in the town of Maaseik, he was a court painter for the Duke of Bavaria, the Count of Holland, and later for Duke Philip III the Good of Burgundy, then ruler of one of the wealthiest realms of Europe. Van Eyck served the duke as a diplomat as well as a painter, and traveled on several missions in the duke's service.
Van Eyck ran a busy workshop in the city of Bruges, where he remained for most of his life. His works and his painting technique were copied by many other northern European artists. He was a well-read scholar of ancient writers, notably Pliny the Elder, a Roman naturalist who wrote on the subjects of art and painting. Many of his works carry Latin inscriptions, a sign in his own day of a well-educated man. Historians have counted ten of his works that he signed, an unusual practice in the Middle Ages and evidence that van Eyck enjoyed a high reputation among patrons and collectors.
Van Eyck had a gift for composition, rendering his subjects in great detail with
careful shading of light and texture. He was also a master of the technical aspects of painting, and was one of the first artists to work with oil paints. He produced large-scale religious works as well as intimate personal portraits. His largest and most famous single work is the Ghent Altarpiece, also known as The Adoration of the Lamb, an elaborate polyptych, or multi paneled painting, that he completed with the help of his brother Hubert van Eyck. This work was carried out for the Cathedral of Saint Bavon in Ghent. He is also known for a later work, the Marriage of the Arnolfini, a wedding portrait rich in detail and bright coloration. Van Eyck also painted Madonna with Chancellor Rolin and a famous Annunciation, as well as a self-portrait, Portrait of a Man in a Turban. These and other works were known to artists throughout Europe, and van Eyck's attention to naturalistic detail, rich texture, and intense coloration influenced generations of artists in northern Europe.
See Also: painting
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