Jan van Eyck

Van Eyck, Lam Gods © www.lukasweb.be - Art in Flanders vzw

Jan van Eyck (c. 1390–1441) is known for quality over quantity. Sadly, only about twenty of his works have survived. These are of superb quality thanks to his fine eye, brush technique and use of colour. Van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece is one of the highlights of European art history. The great Jan van Eyck changed Western painting forever.

Jan van Eyck, the genius behind the Ghent Altarpiece

A leading light of the Flemish Primitives, he won international renown even in his own lifetime. Van Eyck’s paintings featured an unprecedented degree of realism. Using sophisticated oil painting techniques, he created accurate representations of reality. Gorgeous landscapes, fauna and flora; never before had the moon and clouds been so believably depicted. Van Eyck painted light as no-one had done before. He was also one of the first artists to sign his own work. All these elements together initiated an artistic revolution. The great Jan van Eyck changed Western painting forever.

The highlight of his legacy is of course the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb. This is also known as the Ghent Altarpiece. His brother Hubert van Eyck laid the groundwork and Jan completed this masterpiece in 1432. Then the polyptych was given a home in St. Bavo’s Cathedral in Ghent. It proved the start of a turbulent history.

Through the centuries the Ghent Altarpiece has been fully or partially stolen or removed from the cathedral as many as seven times. The panel picturing the Just Judges remains missing to this day.

Ghent Altarpiece Lam Gods ©Art in Flanders, foto Cedric Verhels
Portrait of Margaret van Eyck - © www.lukasweb.be - Art in Flanders vzw / Foto : Hugo Maertens

Van Eyck’s magnum opus is still present in the Ghent cathedral today, albeit in refreshed form. Years of meticulous restoration work have brought back the Ghent Altarpiece’s original splendour, rich colours and subtle play of light, shadow and depth.

This unsurpassed masterpiece has caused Van Eyck’s name to be inextricably linked with Ghent. However, Jan van Eyck also had close ties to Bruges. This is where he set up his studio and spent the latter portion of his life. A visit to the city’s Groeningemuseum is essential to get to know this Flemish Master. The Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp (KMSKA) also has two of his masterpieces.

Arguably, Flanders is the ideal place to immerse yourself in Van Eycks genius.

Van Eyck in Flanders

Jan van Eyck is known for quality over quantity. At least, that is what we can conclude from his remaining body of work. Only about twenty of his pieces have survived. These are distributed across the Western world. Five of his masterpieces may be found in Flanders. They are well worth a visit.

The Ghent Altarpiece / The Adoration of the Sacred Lamb (Angels singing) - Sint-Baafskathedraal- Gent - © www.lukasweb.be - Art in Flanders vzw

The Flemish Masters