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“Jan van Eyck was here”: How did the artist, from which the era of the Northern Renaissance began

The painting of the Northern Renaissance, which became a consequence of the awakening of Europe from the medieval stagnation, differs from the works of the Italian Renaissance. This originality is the result of the creative path of individual artists, those who set the tone for the entire visual arts of that era. Van Eyck among these artists is usually mentioned primarily, perhaps also because the techniques of oil painting and the composition of colors – his invention.

Dutch Revival Artist
Jan van Eyck, largely due to which the Dutch Renaissance arose, was born in the town of Maaseik near Maastricht in the province of Limburg. The exact year of his birth is unknown – it is assumed that the artist was born from 1385 to 1390 years. The studies of van Eyck were certainly influenced by the fact that his elder brother Hubert was a sought-after artist. He gave Jan lessons in drawing. Subsequently, the brothers worked a lot together, carrying out orders for painting the altars in the cathedrals.

The younger van Eyck, besides painting – his main occupation, was interested in geography, geometry, chemistry, and thanks to his abilities he was in good standing with the nobility. He entered the service of Count Johann of Bavaria, whose court was in the Hague, and later became the court of the Duke of Burgundy Philip III the Good. In 1427, van Eyck was sent by the duke to Portugal to paint a portrait of his future bride, Princess Isabella. The artist created two images, one was sent to Philip by sea, the other by land, but so far both portraits have not been preserved. Sam van Eyck returned to Flanders with a wedding procession.

One of the most significant creations of van Eyck is the altar of the Cathedral of Saint Bavo in Ghent, on the list of which Brother Hubert began to work. In 1426, the elder van Eyck passed away, and the youngest Jan finished the work on the altar. As art critics say, even if van Eyck had not created anything but a Ghent altar in his career, in history he would still be one of the greatest representatives of the Early Renaissance. On the 24 panels of the altar, 258 figures are depicted, and the entire work shows a new, Vaikey style of painting, which will later develop with other Dutch artists and become the hallmark of the Northern Renaissance.

Departing from the medieval traditions in the visual arts, van Eyck, while preserving religious themes in most of his works, relied on realism. He paid great attention to details, which, on the one hand, gave the plot accuracy, objectivity, and on the other hand, they often had a pronounced symbolic character. The biblical characters and figures of the saints of van Eyck turned out to be placed in a daily, “earthly” setting, where each element was depicted carefully and with love. In this sense, the influence on the work of van Eyck of another Dutch artist, Robert Kampen, now called the ancestor of the traditions of the Northern Renaissance, is noted.

Kampen is considered the likely author of the paintings of the Flemish altar and the altar of Mérode, made with far more realistic than all the works of cathedral painting created by that time. Unfortunately, it is difficult to establish the exact authorship of the works of artists of the Early Renaissance, since until the 15th century there was no custom to sign their paintings.

Symbolism and riddles of paintings by van Eyck
Here again, Jan van Eyck became an innovator – one of the first paintings with the artist’s signature is called “Portrait of Arnolfini couple”. This is probably the most recognizable work of the Dutch master – and this reputation is deserved both by the amazing quality of the letter, creating the effect of three-dimensionality of space, immersion in the interior on canvas, and ambiguous interpretation of what is happening in the picture, as well as the meaning of some intriguing details.

Van Eyck is credited with the glory of the inventor of oil paints – in fact, he perfected the composition used by the artists of that time. Paints on the basis of oils have been made since the 12th century, but these paints have been drying for a long time, and having dried out, they quickly lost color and cracked. Van Eyck’s broad interests and knowledge of chemistry helped the artist to improve the composition, making it possible to apply paint in layers, both dense and transparent. Multi-layered strokes made it possible to achieve a three-dimensional image, the play of light and shadow — this became a feature of the Flemish writing style.

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