The Artist Jan van Eyck

Born in c.1395, the Flemish painter Jan van Eyck was born in the Netherlands region and spent most of his career in the city of Bruges. He is regarded as one of the master painters of the fifteenth century. One of his best-known works is the painting Portrait of a Man in a Turban (1433) which some art historians believe may be a self-portrait. Today van Eyck is considered one of the best Renaissance painters of Northern Europe and has been dubbed the father of oil painting.

Little is known of van Eyck’s childhood or upbringing. Art scholars suspect that he was taught art by his older brother Hubert van Eyck; later, the two brothers would collaborate on The Ghent Altarpiece (1425-1432) which Jan would be obliged to complete alone after his brother’s death. Most art historians believe van Eyck was probably born before 1395, but no date can be pinpointed. Records show that van Eyck was patronized by Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy and spent roughly a year living in Lille before settling for good in Bruges. According to historians, van Eyck received an excellent salary painting for the duke; Philip was even named godfather of one of van Eyck’s children and was a beneficial friend to van Eyck’s family.

In the course of his career van Eyck was considered by many to be the leading painter of his day; he was certainly among the best paid of the Netherlands painters since most painters earned their income strictly by commission. The artist produced paintings for court as well as for private clients. Although van Eyck did not invent oil painting, he is regarded as its father because of his early mastery of oil painting techniques. He was particularly skilled with glazes. Van Eyck died in 1441 and was buried at the Church of St. Donatian in Bruges. The church, however, was destroyed during the years of the French Revolution.

Unlike many paintings of the era, van Eyck’s have been easier to identify than many works of other artists since he inscribed his name—an unusual practice for this period. Some of the artist’s most famous works include The Arnolfini Portrait (1434), The Annunciation (1434-1436), Madonna and Child at the Fountain (1439), Portrait of Christ (1440), Madonna with Child Reading (1433), Portrait of Niccolo Albergati (1435), The Virgin of Chancellor Rolin (1435), and St. John the Evangelist (1432). His paintings are famous for their rich coloration and exquisite detail.