Jan van Eyck

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Jan van Eyck (or Johannes de Eyck) (Dutch: [ˈjɑn vɑn ˈɛjk]; before c. 1390 – before c. 9 July 1441) was a Flemish painter active in Bruges and is generally considered one of the most significant Northern European painters of the 15th century. The few surviving records indicate that he was born around 1390, most likely in Maaseik. Outside of the Ghent Altarpiece completed with his brother Hubert van Eyck, and the illuminated miniatures ascribed to Hand G—believed to be Jan—of the Turin-Milan Hours, only about 23 surviving works are confidently attributed to him, of which ten, including the Ghent altarpiece, are signed and dated.

Little is known of his early life, but his emergence as a collectable painter generally follows his appointment to the court of Philip the Good c. 1425, and from this point his activity in the court is comparatively well documented. Van Eyck had previously served John of Bavaria-Straubing, then ruler of Holland, Hainault and Zeeland. By this time van Eyck had assembled a workshop and was involved in redecorating the Binnenhof palace in The Hague. After John's death in 1425 he moved to Bruges and came to the attention of Philip the Good. He served as both court artist and diplomat and became a senior member of the Tournai painters' guild, where he enjoyed the company of similarly esteemed artists such as Robert Campin and Rogier van der Weyden. Over the following decade van Eyck's reputation and technical ability grew, mostly from his innovative approaches towards the handling and manipulating of oil paint. His revolutionary approach to oil was such that a myth, perpetuated by Giorgio Vasari, arose that he had invented oil painting.

It is known from historical record that van Eyck was considered a revolutionary master across northern Europe within his lifetime; his designs and methods were heavily copied and reproduced. His motto, one of the first and still most distinctive signatures in art history, ALS IK KAN ("AS I CAN"), a pun on his name, first appeared in 1433 on Portrait of a Man in a Turban, which can be seen as indicative of his emerging self-confidence at the time. The years between 1434 and 1436 are generally considered his high point when he produced works including the Madonna of Chancellor Rolin, Lucca Madonna and Virgin and Child with Canon van der Paele. He married the much younger Margaret around 1432 at about the same time he bought a home in Bruges. Records from 1437 on suggest that he was held in high esteem by the upper ranks of Burgundian nobility while also accepting many foreign commissions. He died young in July 1441, leaving behind many unfinished works to be completed by workshop journeymen; works that are nevertheless today considered major examples of Early Flemish painting. His local and international reputation was aided by his ties to the then political and cultural influence of the Burgundian court.

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