About that Artist – Jan van Eyck

Jan Van Eyck was one of the earliest Netherlandish painters, most renowned for his religious and naturalistic oil paintings in the 1400s and is also believed to be the inventor of oil paintings. His work includes portraits, single panels, triptychs and polyptychs, most of them are speculated to be painted in the 1430s. He paid special attention to the religious subjects and realism. 

Even though the exact year and place of Jan van Eyck’s birth is unknown but is believed to be born in the 1390s in Maaseik, a territory that belonged to the Holy Roman Empire, a city now known as Belgium. He is classified under the Flemish painters (artists who were active during the 15th and 16th centuries in Flanders). He was working in Hague somewhere between the years 1422 and 1424. Van Eyck, was the official painter to John of Bavaria, Count of Holland and continued to to work in the palace of Hague until 1325, the year in which the Count died.

After the Count’s death, he began working for Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy and worked for the duke until his death. Under Philip the Good, he did not just work as a painter but was also given political and diplomatic tasks, for which Van Eyck travelled all around Europe.

He took a lot of trips around the continent on Philip the Good’s behalf working on projects that were kept a secret and was given a salary for the same and his income did not depend solely on commissions.

It is believed that Van Eyck came from a family of painters. His brother Hubert van Eyck and he collaborated on perhaps one of Jan’s famous works Ghent Altarpiece, a polyptych altarpiece in St Bavo’s Cathedral, Ghent, Belgium which is considered as one of the most profound oil paintings. It began in 1420 and was completed about 12 years later in 1432. 

In around 1431 Jan Van Eyck, bought a house in Burges and married a lady, Margaret with whom he had 2 children. The prime of his career began in the mid 1430s, a time during which he painted Madonna of Chancellor Rolin, Lucca Madonna and Virgin and Child with Canon van der Paele.

Madonna of Chancellor Rolin, in which Virgin Mary is being crowned by an angel while holding Jesus in her lap and presenting him to Rolin. This painting was kept in a church in  Notre-Dame-du-Chastel in Autun until a fire burnt the church down in 1793 and then later, it was moved to Musée du Louvre, Paris.

Lucca Madonna, an oil painting depicting Mary sitting on a throne with Jesus Christ sitting on her lap.

In July, 1441, Van Eyck passed away and was buried in the Church of St Donatian’s graveyard. After the artist’s death, his widow was paid Van Eyck’s annual salary by Philip as a sign of utmost respect towards the artist. His reputation continued to grow after his death and many of his unfinished works were completed after his death. His brother Lambert van Eyck conducted a workshop after his death as well. 

About 20 paintings are known to be made by him in the 21st century and all of them are still waiting for the mystery that encompasses them to unwind itself.