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Title: Van Eyck -   - Masterpieces in Colour Series
Author: Weale, James Cyril M.
Language: English
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MASTERPIECES IN COLOUR

Edited by T. Leman Hare

VAN EYCK

Hubert, 1365 (?)-1426
John, 1385 (?)-1441

       *       *       *       *       *

"MASTERPIECES IN COLOUR" SERIES


    ARTIST.               AUTHOR.

    BELLINI.              GEORGE HAY.
    BOTTICELLI.           HENRY B. BINNS.
    BOUCHER.              C. HALDANE MACFALL.
    BURNE-JONES.          A. LYS BALDRY.
    CARLO DOLCI.          GEORGE HAY.
    CHARDIN.              PAUL G. KONODY.
    CONSTABLE.            C. LEWIS HIND.
    COROT.                SIDNEY ALLNUTT.
    DA VINCI.             M. W. BROCKWELL.
    DELACROIX.            PAUL G. KONODY.
    DÜRER.                H. E. A. FURST.
    FRA ANGELICO.         JAMES MASON.
    FRA FILIPPO LIPPI.    PAUL G. KONODY.
    FRAGONARD.            C. HALDANE MACFALL.
    FRANZ HALS.           EDGCUMBE STALEY.
    GAINSBOROUGH.         MAX ROTHSCHILD.
    GREUZE.               ALYS EYRE MACKLIN.
    HOGARTH.              C. LEWIS HIND.
    HOLBEIN.              S. L. BENSUSAN.
    HOLMAN HUNT.          MARY E. COLERIDGE.
    INGRES.               A. J. FINBERG.
    LAWRENCE.             S. L. BENSUSAN.
    LE BRUN, VIGÉE.       C. HALDANE MACFALL.
    LEIGHTON.             A. LYS BALDRY.
    LUINI.                JAMES MASON.
    MANTEGNA.             MRS. ARTHUR BELL.
    MEMLINC.              W. H. J. & J. C. WEALE.
    MILLAIS.              A. LYS BALDRY.
    MILLET.               PERCY M. TURNER.
    MURILLO.              S. L. BENSUSAN.
    PERUGINO.             SELWYN BRINTON.
    RAEBURN.              JAMES L. CAW.
    RAPHAEL.              PAUL G. KONODY.
    REMBRANDT.            JOSEF ISRAELS.
    REYNOLDS.             S. L. BENSUSAN.
    ROMNEY.               C. LEWIS HIND.
    ROSSETTI.             LUCIEN PISSARRO.
    RUBENS.               S. L. BENSUSAN.
    SARGENT.              T. MARTIN WOOD.
    TINTORETTO.           S. L. BENSUSAN.
    TITIAN.               S. L. BENSUSAN.
    TURNER.               C. LEWIS HIND.
    VAN DYCK.             PERCY M. TURNER.
    VAN EYCK.             J. CYRIL M. WEALE.
    VELAZQUEZ.            S. L. BENSUSAN.
    WATTEAU.              C. LEWIS HIND.
    WATTS.                W. LOFTUS HARE.
    WHISTLER.             T. MARTIN WOOD.

    _Others in Preparation._

       *       *       *       *       *


[Illustration: PLATE I.--THE ADORATION OF THE LAMB

(By Hubert van Eyck)

The centre-piece of the Ghent Polyptych, in the Cathedral of that town.
The panel was completed in or before 1426. See page 28.]


VAN EYCK

by

J. CYRIL M. WEALE

Illustrated with Eight Reproductions in Colour



[Illustration: IN SEMPITERNUM.]

London: T. C. & E. C. Jack
New York: Frederick A. Stokes Co.



TO MY MOTHER

IN TOKEN OF REVERENCE AND LOVE



CONTENTS


                                      Page
    I. The Advent of the Van Eycks      11

   II. Hubert's Novitiate               17

  III. The Great Polyptych              22

   IV. In the Service of Burgundy       42

    V. Period of Great Endeavour        58

   VI. A Note in Conclusion             77



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


  Plate
     I. The Adoration of the Lamb, _c._ 1426              Frontispiece
            (By Hubert van Eyck.--The Cathedral, Ghent)

                                                                  Page
    II. Choir of Angels, _c._ 1426                                  14
            (By Hubert van Eyck.--Royal Gallery, Berlin)

   III. Portrait of "Tymotheos," 1432                               24
            (By John van Eyck.--National Gallery, London, No. 290)

    IV. Portrait of the Painter's Father-in-law, 1433               34
            (By John van Eyck.--National Gallery, London, No. 222)

     V. John Arnolfini and Joan Cenani, his Wife, 1434              40
            (By John van Eyck.--National Gallery, London, No. 186)

    VI. The Virgin and Child, St. Donatian and St. George, and
          Canon G. Van der Paele, 1436                              50
            (By John van Eyck.--Town Gallery, Bruges)

   VII. Portrait of Margaret van Eyck, the Painter's Wife, 1439     60
            (By John van Eyck.--Town Gallery, Bruges)

  VIII. The Virgin and Child, and Chancellor Rolin, date
          uncertain                                                 70
            (By -- van Eyck.--The Louvre, Paris)



[Illustration: John.      Hubert.]



I

THE ADVENT OF THE VAN EYCKS


The advent of the Van Eycks is the most important landmark in the
history of painting in northern Europe. With them we open an entirely
new chapter, for although the value of oil in various inferior processes
of the art had been ascertained and availed of at an earlier period, it
was entirely due to their long and painstaking experiments that its use
was perfected as the vehicle of colouring matter in picture-painting.
Unfortunately, time and its worst incidentals have obliterated the
evidence which would have enabled us to follow the development of this
new method, just as they have robbed us of all the earlier work of its
original expounders, leaving us at the same time much too inconsiderable
remains for a comprehensive survey of the school of which they were the
finished product. It is a disconcerting experience to encounter
primarily the lifework of two such eminent painters at a stage when they
were already in the plenitude of their powers, and an experience that
must always tax the ingenuity of the student and critic of their art.
Particularly is this the case in respect of the elder brother, for the
ascertained facts of Hubert's history are restricted to the last two
years of his life (1425-26), while of the masterpieces he bequeathed to
posterity only one can be said to be absolutely authenticated, though of
others generally ascribed to him several may safely be accepted as
genuine. John's career, on the other hand, can be traced back to
1424, but the chronology from that date to his death in 1441 is fairly
ample, while he has left us a rich heritage of attested paintings to
exemplify the varying aspects of his remarkable genius.

[Illustration: PLATE II.--CHOIR OF ANGELS

(By Hubert van Eyck)

The first dexter lateral panel in the upper zone of the interior of the
Great Polyptych: now in the Royal Gallery, Berlin. Painted in or before
1426. See page 31.]

It was in the nature of things that the monastic institutions, which in
the early Middle Ages were exclusively the nurseries of learning and of
the arts and crafts, should have infected these with the mystic spirit
induced by the more or less contemplative life its inmates led. More
especially must this have been so when we consider that their labours
were wholly in the service of religion. As time went on, and monasticism
progressed from the pursuit to the dissemination of knowledge, the
pupils developed under its influence were naturally imbued with the same
spirit, and so a tradition grew up and spread which held undisputed sway
for a considerable period in the various centres where artists
congregated and formed schools. In the earlier Rhenish school of Cöln
this was the dominant note of its art, which it cherished and sustained
in all its purity and simplicity to a later period than any of its
offshoots and rivals; for as its teaching extended, more particularly
northwards, we are conscious of a weakening of its traditions, of a
gradual evolution from the spiritual idealism of its mystic brotherhood
to the more humanistic realism that is the distinctive feature of
Netherlandish art, from the utter sinking of personality to the frank
assertion of individuality. Nor does this divergence necessarily bespeak
a weakening of religious vitality: rather is it to be ascribed to a
marked difference of temperament and race characteristics. Neither could
this change have been as abrupt as might appear from the scant remains
of the art of the period. It was a natural growth, the one inherent
quality of all such developments, ever tending to the elaboration of a
higher type, and eventually producing its finest exemplification in the
person of Hubert van Eyck. In his younger brother, on the other hand,
who almost belonged to another generation, we soon note a more striking
falling away from the earlier ideals, and in the event an almost total
emancipation from the canons of the mystic school, the explanation of
which is probably to be sought in an equally marked difference of
character and temperament in the two brothers: the one more poetic and
imaginative, the other more objective and materialistic; the one drawing
his inspiration from a humble and devout cultivation of art by the light
of the sanctuary, the other from a devotion to art for art's sole sake,
involving all the difference that divides the expression of beauty of
thought and mere beauty of form, the spiritual and the intellectual:
each nevertheless supreme in his own sphere, and wielding an influence
and authority destined to leave their impress on all the after-work of
the school.



II

HUBERT'S NOVITIATE


The small rural town of Maaseyck, on the left bank of the Maas, in the
old duchy of Limburg, was the home of the Van Eycks and the birthplace
of the elect of their stock, Hubert's coming being traditionally
associated with the year 1365, John's with 1385. In the absence of
documentary evidence to the contrary, these data are acceptable as
founded on reasonable conjecture. There is no record of their parentage,
but we know of a third brother, named Lambert, and of a kinsman, one
Henry van Eyck, whose exact relationship has not been established. As
the early instinct of genius revealed the true bent of the elder lad's
disposition, the outstanding advantages of a distinguished school of
painting within hail almost of their doors naturally appealed to parents
anxious to give effect to their son's aspirations; so to Maastricht they
turned, where the boy was duly apprenticed to one or other of its
recognised masters. Having served his articles and in due course been
admitted to the rank of journeyman, the youthful artist, now free to
qualify for his mastership, entered upon the most interesting period of
his education, a period largely spent, according to the custom of the
time, in foreign travel; and it is with this stage of Hubert's career
that criticism first finds legitimate occupation.

Futile as would be the attempt to trace a definite itinerary, it is
allowable to conjecture that the mother school of Cöln would mark the
first stage in the young artist's travels: in the centre-piece of the
great polyptych we discover in the background architectural work
distinctly reminiscent of that city, and detail unmistakably Rhenish in
character, testifying to a close acquaintance with the district.
Evidence of similar import, such as the cathedral in the Louvre picture
and the city view with a faithful presentation of Old Saint Paul's as
seen from the south in that of Baron Gustave Rothschild's collection, on
the confident assumption that these are from the brush of Hubert,
bespeak visits to France and England; while the landscape work in all
his paintings betrays so intimate an acquaintance with central and
southern European scenery as almost to compel us into the beaten tracks
of the wandering artist-student of the time through Switzerland and the
south of France, to sunny Italy and erubescent Spain. The variety of his
mountain scenery--undulating hills and snow-capped peaks, rugged crags
and Alpine heights; the depth of his liquid skies and spacious
firmaments, with their marvellous cloud and light effects, melodies in
colour that breathe the warmth of a southern sun; and the extent of his
botanical lore, embracing the olive and citron, the stone pine and
cypress, the date-palm and palmetto, naturalised exotics of the
Mediterranean slopes--all these and other particulars too numerous to
list bear the hall-mark of knowledge garnered in the observant pursuit
of local colouring.

For so much there is ample warrant, and within the limits of such
guarded conclusions the critic incurs little danger from the many
pitfalls that beset the by-paths of deductive reasoning. But seeing that
the most of our knowledge of Hubert's life-work is arrived at by this
method of inquiry, it is essential that every inference should at least
stand the test of probability. To argue, for example, from the
presentation of a particular palm-tree a pilgrimage to the Holy Land is
to offend the laws of proportion; to discern in the picture of the
walled city of Jerusalem in "The Three Marys at the Sepulchre" work
evidently "from a sketch made on the spot" would appear more
justifiable, until one is reminded of the fact that the defences of the
Holy City, pulled down in 1239, were not rebuilt until 1542; but surely
it is speculation run riot, in the attempt to vindicate a preconceived
theory, when the simple, unobtrusive artist is made, "after the
adventurous manner of his time," to join a crusade and journey to
Palestine, seeing that the last of these gallant enterprises had taken
place full seventy years before he ever saw the light of day. Without,
however, incurring the reproach of outraging probability, we may
apportion the usual four years of Hubert's term of journeymanship
between the countries already indicated, his wanderings likely enough
terminating with the visit to England before his return to the Low
Countries to settle down to his life's work as a master painter, his
range of knowledge tremendously enlarged, his technique broadened and
perfected in the various schools and workshops through which he had
passed, his imagination fertilised, his creative powers strengthened,
his faculty of utterance and expression developed--in short, fully
equipped at all points to startle the world with the first-fruits of his
as yet unrealised genius.



III

THE GREAT POLYPTYCH


So, back to Maaseyck and to Maastricht: to family rejoicings and the
generous welcome of old friends, no light matter when ordered on the
good old Netherlandish scale. Anxiety there, of course, and much
curiosity here, as to how the promise of early talent would be justified
by the ripening fruit. Nor could the issue have been long in doubt. The
indispensable test triumphantly passed, the customary formalities duly
complied with, and Hubert van Eyck took his place among the master
painters of his time, soon to claim rank among the élite of them
all. Of wife or children not a whisper, but in an age when civism spelt
patriotism, and marriage was recognised as one of the prime moral
obligations of a loyal citizen, it is inconceivable that a man of his
sterling sense of duty should have done other than conform to the
established practice. His home and workshop were from the outset
probably cheered by the presence of his younger brother John, fired by
the born artist's enthusiasm to follow in his senior's footsteps. This
Maastricht studio no doubt also witnessed the inception of that long
series of experiments, secretly shared in by the two brothers until
carried to perfection, which gave to the world the new art of
oil-painting, and so laid all the after ages under the deepest
obligation to them.

[Illustration: PLATE III.--PORTRAIT OF "TYMOTHEOS"

(By John van Eyck)

A Presentation Portrait, probably from the Painter to his friend
"Timothy," a Greek humanist whose Christian name only is known. The
inscription at the foot reads: "Actum anno Domini 1432, 10 die Octobris,
a Iohanne de Eyck." No. 290 in the National Gallery, London. See pages
63, 64.]

John's apprenticeship ended, and he in turn started on his travels,
Hubert would appear to have removed to Holland, where painters and
miniaturists of the early years of the fifteenth century repeatedly
exhibit marked traces of his influence; where also miniatures in a Book
of Hours, of date 1412 to 1417, to the order of Count William for the
use of his only daughter, the fair and ill-starred Jacqueline, are
judged to have been executed by him on the strength of the many points
of resemblance they bear to the Great Polyptych. The commission of the
latter work itself is now confidently attributed to the same prince.
Observe the prominence given to the tower of Saint Martin's at Utrecht
and the adjacent view of Cöln in the centre-piece, "The Adoration of the
Lamb," and to St. Martin himself, the patron saint of Utrecht, in the
panel of "The Knights of Christ," the banner in his grasp, moreover,
charged with the arms of that town: the Count's territory was in the
diocese of Utrecht and the ecclesiastical province of Cöln. So much
depends on the origin of this commission in apportioning the respective
share each of the brothers had in its execution that the further fact
must not be overlooked that Ghent, for which the great work was
completed, had no sort of connection with either Utrecht or Cöln, being
in the diocese of Tournay and the ecclesiastical province of Rheims,
while the only saint in the altar-piece specially connected with Ghent
who is characterised by an emblem--St. Livin, to wit--was also widely
venerated in Zeeland. Finally, not to labour this aspect of the question
unduly, the inscription on the frame attributes, not the picture's
inception, but its completion, to Jodoc Vyt, the eventual donor--a form
of words so singular as to admit of no other interpretation than the
plain meaning the expression conveys.

Count William passed away on the 31st of May 1417, leaving an only
child, Jacqueline, aged seventeen, by his wife, Margaret of Burgundy,
who had predeceased him. Her uncle, John of Bavaria, Prince-Bishop of
Liège, an unscrupulous ruffian who clearly paid small deference to
women's rights, at once set himself to rob the unfortunate princess of
her possessions. In September 1418 he marched out on Dordrecht, where he
established his headquarters; Gorcum and other strongholds speedily
succumbed to his arms, and after an interval, during which he married
Elizabeth of Görlitz, Duchess of Luxemburg and widow of Anthony of
Burgundy, Duke of Brabant and Limburg, he finally removed to Holland and
installed himself at The Hague, free now to pursue his nefarious
projects. For thirteen years the country resounded with the clash of
arms and laboured in the rough and tumble of civil warfare: hence an
atmosphere the least congenial to the cultivation and patronage of high
art. The cities of Flanders and Brabant were the gainers by the exodus
of craftsmen that presently set in. Of their number, sooner or later,
was Hubert, who, prior to 1425 at any rate, had already settled at Ghent
and acquired the freedom of that city. News of the unfinished polyptych
remaining on his hands soon came to the ears of Jodoc Vyt, a wealthy
burgher, who eagerly embraced the opportunity of striking the bargain by
which he acquired all rights in the picture and so linked his name and
personality for all time with this ineffable monument of the painter's
art.

In the centre-piece, "The Adoration of the Lamb" (frontispiece), we
discover the keynote to the scheme of the work, in the Apocalyptic
Vision of St. John the source of its inspiration. The Lamb without spot,
the blood from its breast pouring into a chalice, is stood on an altar,
the white cloth over which bears on its superfrontal the text from the
Vulgate, "Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the
world," and on its stole-ends the legend, "Jesus, the Way, the Truth,
and the Life." Worshipping angels gather around, some bearing
instruments of the Passion, others swinging censers, their smoke
laden with the prayers of the saints. In the foreground the Fountain
of Life, flowing down through the ages along the gentle slope of
flower-bejewelled sward, or dispensing its waters in vivifying jets from
the gurgoyles beneath the feet and from the vases in the hands of the
winged angel above its standard. To the four quarters groups of the
elect: on the near right those of the Old Law and among the Gentiles who
had lived in expectation of the Redeemer, the balancing group on the
left typical of the New Law--prophets, doctors, philosophers, and
princes in the former, the Apostles, popes, bishops, abbots, deacons,
monks, and clerics among the latter. The corresponding groups back of
the altar represent the army of martyrs whose blood is the seed of the
Church, and the multitude of virgins. Over all, from the Holy Dove
poised high over the altar, dart rays of light, emblematic of the Wisdom
which had inspired their lives and of the fire of Love that had
heartened their sacrifice. A carpet of flowers fills in all the open
space fore of the altar, flowering shrubs and trees that of the
mid-distance, while the entire background is an exquisite example of the
realistic landscape-work that is an abiding charm of the Netherlandish
school. The wonderful harmony of colour appeals at once to the senses;
but more arresting, on nearer acquaintance, for its quality and
felicity, is the wide range of portraiture that distinguishes the piece.
From the two lateral panels in the dexter shutter the Knights of Christ
and the Just Judges are pressing forward to the scene of the Vision,
from the corresponding ones in the sinister shutter the Holy Hermits and
the Holy Pilgrims: the former on spirited horses--an animal for which
the painter evinces a special affection--the latter on foot. These
panels are even more remarkable perhaps than the centre-piece for the
diversity and multiplicity of the types portrayed, and for the wealth of
landscape relieved by bird life lavished in their embellishment.

The "Adoration of the Lamb" is dominated in the upper zone by a triple
panel, the centre framing the Almighty enthroned in majesty, whose is
the kingdom, the power, and the glory--a supreme conception of the
Eternal Father, unequalled for majestic stillness of face, intellectual
power of brow, and depth and placidity of vision; on His right is the
Mother of Christ, testifying to the full the lowliness of the handmaiden
of the Lord, on His left St. John the Baptist, an earnest type, long of
hair and rugged of beard, barefooted, and in a raiment of brown camel's
hair girdled about the loins, intensifying the austerity of life
ordained for him who was to prepare the way of the Lord and make
straight His paths. In the "Choir of Angels" (Plate II.), which is the
subject of the first lateral panel in the dexter shutter, we have one
of the choicest gems of the polyptych, and it affords us a measure of
the distance the realistic tendencies of the painter had carried him
from the traditions of the mystic school. Justified by the warrant of
Scripture, he translates these spirit beings into purely human frames,
but with a nerve system attuned to material sensations. In these angels
there is no suggestion of trance-like ecstasy in contemplation of the
Beatific Vision; they are angels materialised whose features reflect the
strain of sustained effort and the underlying sense of pain which in man
is inseparable from the sensing of intense joy. Evidently the master had
fathomed the secrets of the human heart: the sense possibilities of the
spirit world were without his ken, so he humanised his angels and
evolved types understandable of the people, and at the same time one of
the finest angel groups of all art. So inexpressibly realistic are his
conceptions that to the poet-biographer Van Mander, at any rate, it was
actually possible to discern "the different key in which the voice of
each is pitched." But poets are privileged beings. Accompanying the
Choir in their song of praise with organ, harp, and viol are the
balancing group of angels in the corresponding compartment of the
sinister shutter, types that, strangely enough, are in striking contrast
to the former, their features moulded in placid contentment. The extreme
panels of this zone are occupied by life-size presentations of our First
Parents after the Fall, nude figures painted from the life, with
absolute fidelity to nature and masterly conception of type: in a
demi-lunette over the figure of Adam we see Cain and Abel making their
offerings unto the Lord, and in that over Eve the slaying of Abel at the
hands of his brother. There is a tradition extant that the altar-piece
was originally furnished with a predella painted in distemper, a picture
probably of Limbo or of Purgatory, but no trace of this remains.

[Illustration: PLATE IV.--PORTRAIT OF THE PAINTER'S FATHER-IN-LAW

(By John van Eyck)

The subject of this painting has only within recent months been
identified as the father of Margaret van Eyck, with whose portrait,
reproduced in Plate VII., it should be compared. The framework bears
along the upper border the Painter's simple motto "Als ich can," and at
the foot "Iohannes de Eyck me fecit anno 1433, 21 Octobris." No. 222 in
the National Gallery, London. See page 76.]

The closed shutters display, filling in the full width of the middle
zone, the scene of the Annunciation. The Ethyrean Sibyl and the Cumaean
Sibyl occupy the demi-lunettes above the middle portion of the Virgin's
chamber, the lunettes above the lateral divisions showing half-length
figures of the Prophets Zacharias and Micheas. Of the four compartments
of the lower zone the inner ones contain statues in grisaille of St.
John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist, the outer ones figures in
the attitude of prayer, eminently life-like, of the donor, Jodoc Vyt,
and his wife, Elizabeth Borluut. Jodoc was the second son of Sir
Nicholas Vyt, Receiver of Flanders,--a wealthy citizen who owned the
lordships of Pamele and Leedberghe, besides several mansions in Ghent,
of which city he was burgomaster in 1433-34, after filling various minor
municipal offices: by no means a handsome type, though manifestly a
capable and kindly burgher, well-set, with a somewhat low forehead,
small grey eyes, and a large mouth with broad under-lip; neither do the
short-cropped hair and growing baldness or the three warts on upper-lip,
nose, and forehead make for attractiveness. In respect of looks his wife
is the better favoured, striking the beholder as an indulgent lady, with
much of the homely dignity and serenity of the finer type of Flemish
matron.

The Great Polyptych had not yet reached completion when, on the 18th of
September 1426 Hubert van Eyck passed away after a painful illness. How
much of the work remained to be accomplished none can tell with any hope
of approach to certainty. A whole volume would not suffice for a
critical examination of the mass of contending theories that for the
best part of a century has been squandered in the endeavour to allocate
to the two brothers their respective shares in the execution of the
picture. Remember that it had already been some ten years in the making,
and that, although it did not receive its final touches from the brush
of John van Eyck until 1432, nearly six years after his brother's death,
this period of John's life, as we shall presently discover, was too
fully occupied in the service of Duke Philip of Burgundy to have allowed
of his spending any considerable proportion of it in the task of
completion. Remembering also that John's art had been closely modelled
on that of his brother, that none better comprehended his ideals or was
more intimately acquainted with the working out of his conceptions,
mindful, moreover, of the deep veneration in which he held his
master's genius, we must suppose that he realised the obligation of
conscientiously adhering to the art and technique of the picture as he
found it, any obtruding originality in violation of which would have
amounted almost to sacrilege: all this further enhances the difficulty
of differentiating between the work of the two painters. Indeed, if so
minded, the reader is probably as well equipped as the writer to solve
the puzzle.

[Illustration: PLATE V.--JOHN ARNOLFINI AND JOAN CENANI, HIS WIFE

(By John van Eyck)

An incomparable example of the Master's varied gifts, and a valuable
study of contemporary dress and domestic furniture. Joan Cenani is
presumed to have been a younger sister of Margaret van Eyck, with
whose portrait, reproduced in Plate VII., it should be compared.
The carved frame of the mirror on the far wall enshrines ten small
medallions, exquisite miniatures representing the Agony in the Garden,
the Betrayal and St. Peter's Assault on Malchus, Christ led before
Pilate, the Scourging at the Pillar, the Carrying of the Cross, Calvary,
the Deposition, the Entombment, the Descent into Limbo, and the
Resurrection. On the wall above the mirror we read the precise
statement, "Iohannes de eyck fuit hic 1434." No. 186 in the National
Gallery, London. See page 67.]

Hubert van Eyck was laid to rest in the crypt of the chapel for which he
had painted his masterpiece, but in 1533, when chapel and crypt had to
make way for a new aisle, his remains were transferred to the
churchyard, all except the bone of the right fore-arm, which was
suspended in an iron casket in the porch of the Cathedral. The brass
plate bearing the well-known epitaph was at the same time placed in the
transept, only to become the spoil of the Calvinist Iconoclasts in 1578,
when already the casket had somehow or other long since disappeared. But
what of the painter's fame, to whose workshop laymen of the highest
distinction had felt it a privilege to be admitted, about whose easel
journeymen painters had flocked, and whom the leading contemporary
artists of the Netherlands had been proud to call master? During his
lifetime, and for a considerable period after his death, his was a
dominating influence in the Art of the North, and Van Mander has it on
record that whenever the polyptych was freely exposed to the public gaze
crowds flocked to it from morning till night "like flies and bees in
summer round a basket of figs and grapes." But in the stress and turmoil
of succeeding generations his memory gradually faded away; his work,
uncared for, lost hold on the imagination; even his great masterwork
narrowly escaped destruction. Even so it did not escape dismemberment,
or profanation at the hands of the "restorer." Saved from the fury of
the Iconoclasts in 1566, and subsequently rescued from the Calvinist
leaders who contemplated its offer to Queen Elizabeth in acknowledgment
of her subsidies, it eventually became the spoil of the French
Republicans; but after the battle of Waterloo restitution was effected,
and the main portion of the altar-piece, all that remains of it in
Ghent, was reinstated in its present position. The Adam and Eve panels,
which in 1781 had offended the unsuspected modesty of Joseph II., and in
consequence been deferentially removed, were ultimately ceded to the
Belgian Government, and now rest in the Royal Gallery at Brussels; while
the other six shutter panels, which had been safeguarded through the
French occupation, were shamelessly sold to a dealer in 1816 by the
Vicar-General and churchwardens--in the absence, it is right to say, of
the Bishop--for a paltry 3000 florins, subsequently changing hands for
100,000 francs, and eventually becoming the property of the Prussian
Government for four times that amount.



IV

IN THE SERVICE OF BURGUNDY


During the five years that followed the death of William IV., Count of
Holland and Zeeland, the usurping John of Bavaria had so far succeeded
in asserting his power as to be able to permit his interest to wander to
the lighter occupations of life, the while the niece he had dispossessed
was supplementing the tale of her political woes with all the domestic
misery attendant upon a succession of unhappy marriages. Thus in 1422 we
find John van Eyck attached to the Count's household as painter and
"varlet de chambre," and, as we gather from the prince's household
accounts, engaged in the decoration of the palace at The Hague from the
24th of October in that year till the 11th of September 1424. Another
member of the household at the time was his kinsman, Henry van Eyck, the
record of whose faithful services won him in February 1425 the post of
master of the hunt to Jacqueline's second husband, John IV., Duke of
Brabant. John of Bavaria died on the 25th of January 1425, and, as might
have been expected, civil war immediately broke out. The situation
proving uncongenial, the whilom court painter lost no time in taking the
road to Flanders, where Philip III., Duke of Burgundy, was lording it
as the most munificent patron of the arts and sciences and of letters.
With a keen eye for available talent, this princely despot at once
enlisted him in his service. No doubt he had become acquainted with
the Van Eycks during his residence at Ghent in the days of his
heir-apparentship and before the younger artist's removal to The Hague;
probably the portrait of Michelle of France, the Duke's first wife (who
died in July 1422), copies of which exist, was painted by John: at any
rate we have Philip's own words for the fact that it was personal
knowledge of John's skill that determined his appointment on the 19th of
May 1425 as painter and "varlet de chambre," with "all the honours,
privileges, rights, profits, and emoluments" attaching to the office;
moreover, with characteristic prudence, he secured a first lien on his
services by awarding him a retaining fee--call it salary or call it
pension--equivalent to £5, 11s. 1-1/3d. in contemporary English
currency, or anything from ten to twelve times that sum at the present
day.

Having made good his position, John's first move apparently was in the
interest of his kinsman, for whom he secured the position of falconer in
the ducal household. As we have no further concern with this member of
the Van Eyck family, it may be said that in 1436 he was employed by the
Duke on a secret mission of some importance, that on the occasion of his
marriage in 1444 to the daughter of the master-falconer Philip made him
a present of 100_l._, and that in 1461 he became baillie of the town and
territory of Termonde, continuing in that office, with the additional
distinctions of councillor and chamberlain to the Duke, besides a
knighthood, until his death in November 1466.

The new court painter was something more than a master of his art:
a man evidently of sterling qualities of mind and heart, of wide
accomplishments and business capacity--in every way _persona grata_
at the most brilliant court of the age. Not many months after his
appointment he removed to Lille by order and at the expense of the Duke,
by whom also was paid the rent of the house he occupied there from 1426
to 1428, from midsummer to midsummer. Of his professional work at this
period nothing is known. The chroniclers in the Duke's service did not
concern themselves with such minor matters. As De Comines himself
boasted, they wrote "not for the amusement of brutes and people of low
degree, but for princes and other persons of quality," little bethinking
themselves what store the after ages would have set by their gossip had
it busied itself with the doings, for example, of court painters. In
other respects, however, we are better served, and in the early part of
1426 we find John van Eyck commissioned, after the pious custom of the
time, to undertake a pilgrimage in the interest of the ducal health, and
in August of the same year despatched on some distant foreign mission.
His return was saddened by tidings of the death of his brother Hubert,
who had passed away in his absence. Further tokens of the ducal favour
in 1427 took the form of presents of 20_l._ and 100_l._ respectively.

Duke Philip's matrimonial ventures hitherto had not been crowned with
success. Neither his first wife, Michelle of France, nor Bonne of
Artois, whom he wedded and lost within the ten months (she died in
September 1425), had provided him with an heir. Anxious to secure the
succession in the direct line, towards the middle of 1427 he despatched
ambassadors to the court of Alphonsus V., King of Aragon, to obtain for
him the hand of Isabella, eldest daughter of James II., Count of Urgel,
and John van Eyck was attached to the mission. Arriving at Barcelona in
July, only to find that the earthquakes in Catalonia had driven the
Court to escape by sea to Valencia, the embassy followed in the royal
track and reached this city early in August, in time for the floral
games and bull-fight with which the Jurats honoured the King. The
mission led to nothing, not even to a portrait of the princess, who in
September 1428 was married to Peter, Duke of Coimbra, third son of John
I., King of Portugal; but it is interesting to find Alphonsus V. in
later years acquiring paintings by Van Eyck for his collection. The
return journey included a short halt at Tournay, where the magistrates
very appropriately paid Van Eyck the compliment of a wine of honour on
the 18th of October, St. Luke's Day, the local guild, moreover--Robert
Campin, Roger de la Pasture, and James Daret doubtless distinguished
among its members--being favoured with his company in the celebration of
the feast of its patron saint. A like wine of honour was presented to
the ambassadors on the 20th.

An illuminating dispute between the Duke, the Receiver of Flanders, and
John van Eyck helped to relieve the tedium of life in the intervals of
employment on foreign missions at this stage of the painter's career.
Philip's munificence was largely tempered by prudent frugality in the
ordering of his household, and in the process of curtailing his domestic
expenses in 1426 he published an edict bearing date December 14
regulating its constitution and the wages of its members. By some
inadvertence John's name was omitted from the new roll, and the Receiver
of Flanders summarily stopped payment of his salary. An ineffectual
protest was lodged, complaints followed reinforced by threats, to
such good purpose that eventually, though not until after many months'
persistent badgering, the aggrieved party emerged with flying colours
from the triangular duel, securing letters patent under date March 3,
1428, confirming his appointment and commanding the payment of all
arrears.

[Illustration: PLATE VI.--THE VIRGIN AND CHILD, ST. DONATIAN AND ST.
GEORGE, AND CANON G. VAN DER PAELE

(By John van Eyck)

The largest but one of the Painter's works, unfortunately damaged by
cleaning and clumsy retouching, while the general effect is marred by a
thick coating of cloudy varnish. The white shame-cloth about the Child's
loins is a later addition. At the foot on the original frame we read:
"Hoc opus fecit fieri magister Georgius de Pala huius ecclesie canonicus
per Iohannem de Eyck pictorem: ... completum anno 1436°." In the Town
Gallery, Bruges. See page 74.]

Of the many paintings executed by John van Eyck to which no precise date
can be attached not one can with certainty be ascribed to this period,
and yet it is difficult to believe that his duties in the three years he
had already spent in the ducal service were exclusively of a
non-professional character: surely the lost portrait of Bonne of Artois
as Duchess of Burgundy, a copy of which is preserved in the store-room
of the Royal Gallery at Berlin, was his work. The years immediately
following, however, yielded a rich harvest of brilliant pictures, first
among which, chronologically, two portraits of the Infanta Isabella of
Portugal. Philip, on matrimonial projects still intent, was now turning
his attention from the Courts of Spain to the neighbouring one of
Portugal, and in the autumn of 1428 he decided on an embassy to John I.
The mission was a princely one: at its head Sir John de Lannoy,
councillor and first chamberlain; associated with whom were Sir Baldwin
de Lannoy, governor of Lille--at some later date, too, a subject for our
painter's brush--high dignitaries of the court and some of the leading
gentry, a secretary, cupbearer, steward, clerk of accounts, and two
pursuivants, and last, but not least, John van Eyck, whose relative
standing may be gathered from the fact that in the distribution of
gratuities at the ceremony of leave-taking only that of the chief
ambassador exceeded his, the respective sums being 200_l._ and 160_l._
The mission, distributed between two Venetian galleys, sailed out of
Sluus harbour on the 19th of October and arrived the next day at
Sandwich, where three or four weeks were spent awaiting a further escort
of two galleys from London. Forced by contrary winds to seek shelter,
first at Shoreham and then at Plymouth and Falmouth, it was not till the
2nd of December that the convoy sailed out into the ocean. Nine days
later they were at Bayona, a small seaport of Galicia, where they
delayed three days, their long sea journey at length terminating on the
16th at Cascaës, whence they travelled overland to Lisbon. In the
absence of the Court a letter explaining the object of the mission was
entrusted to the herald Flanders, who pursued the King from Estremóz to
Arrayollos and Aviz, in the province of Alemtéjo, where the embassy at
last had audience of his Majesty on the 13th of January and presented to
him the Duke's letters soliciting the hand of his daughter Isabella. The
while the ambassadors were discussing their master's proposals with the
King's Council John van Eyck was at his easel painting the Infanta's
portrait, two copies of which were executed and despatched to the Court
of Burgundy, one by sea and the other by land, the better to ensure safe
delivery, with duplicate accounts of the mission's doings to date. The
Duke's reply did not arrive until the 4th of June. A pilgrimage to Saint
James of Compostella, and visits to John II., King of Castile, to the
Duke of Arjona, a prince of the same royal blood, and to Mohammed, King
of the City of Grenada, agreeably filled in the interval of waiting, Van
Eyck naturally missing no opportunity of acquaintance with the leading
painters of the day, enlarging the scope of his own observation, and no
doubt leaving behind him the impress of his mastery. That the name of
Van Eyck was already one to conjure with in these distant realms appears
from the traditional ascription to him of a mass of painting certainly
in his manner, but vastly too great to have ever been conceived by him
within the limits of his stay in Portugal. Take that finest of all
pictures there, the "Fons Vitae" in the board-room of the Misericordia
at Oporto, and the series of twelve paintings in the Episcopal Palace at
Evoca, locally claimed for Van Eyck; likewise the pictures in the church
of S. Francisco at Evoca, in the round church of the Templars at Thomar,
and elsewhere, which are at any rate thought there to be not unworthy of
his technique, and scarcely inferior to his best masterpieces for
brilliancy of colouring and beauty of portraiture. The one regrettable
circumstance in relation to this visit to Portugal is that both
portraits of the Infanta are to be numbered among the lost certain
treasures of his art.

On their return to Lisbon in the closing days of May the embassy
rejoined the Court at Cintra on the ensuing 4th by special request of
the king, and the Duke of Burgundy's reply came to hand the same
evening: the princess's portrait had been to the Duke's liking. All
the preliminaries being now in order events sped on apace, to the
signing of the marriage contract at Lisbon on the 29th of July and
the solemnisation of the espousals a day later; and after a period of
brilliant festivities the bridal party, to the number of some two
thousand, set sail for the land of Flanders. A fortnight later four
weather-beaten ships, the Infanta's of the number, lumbered into Vivero
harbour in Galicia, followed later by a fifth: the remainder of the
original fleet of fourteen, after battling with contrary winds, had been
effectually dispersed in the subsequent storm. Again a start was made
on the 6th of November, but the state of prostration to which Sir John
de Lannoy had been reduced by sea-sickness compelled a further delay of
over a fortnight at Ribadeu. Here the convoy was reinforced by two
Florentine galleys, also bound for Flanders, and on the 25th they
eventually made good their leave of Portuguese waters. The afflicted
ambassador, with members of his suite, had meanwhile transferred to the
Florentine galleys, a step that nearly cost them their lives, as these
vessels narrowly escaped shipwreck in the vicinity of the Land's End.
The other five ships put into Plymouth harbour on the 29th, but the
Florentines pushed on to Sluus, where they cast anchor on the 6th of
December, Sir John de Lannoy making all speed to the Duke with the glad
tidings of the Infanta's safe arrival in English waters. The
preparations for her reception were quickly followed by the coming of
the bride, who safely accomplished her long journey's end on Christmas
Day. In the midst of a carnival of popular rejoicing the union was
solemnised at Bruges on the 7th of January 1430.

John van Eyck's absence had extended to slightly over fourteen months,
during which, seemingly, the two portraits of the Infanta were the sole
yield of his art, except we couple with them the picture known as "La
belle Portugaloise" and another portrait of a Portuguese maiden of which
only verbal descriptions have come down to us. In the light of all the
compelling evidence of John's consummate love of Nature, amply displayed
in the mass of landscape work that enriches many of his finest
productions, one cannot help but be struck by the fact that he never
appears to have realised the possibilities of seascape as an avenue of
Art. Only in one small panel do we remember any deviation from the type
of slow-running river water that he usually affected, and there we are
shown small craft exposed to the mean spiteful choppiness of a
wind-exposed estuary, an unconvincing picture from the utter monotony of
treatment of beaten water. Is it possible that the sea in all of its
countless moods failed in its appeal to the aesthetic sense of the
master, with its infinite variety of elemental energy and its chaste
exuberance of exquisite colouring, with all the untold modulations,
moreover, in that great symphony of the ocean which stirs so deeply the
soul of the true poet? Or was it that the message baffled the
apprehension of the artist, and left him helpless to respond to the
call? Whatever the answer--or be it that, like his leader De Lannoy, he
found the sea so severe a taskmaster in the more matter-of-fact sense as
to blunt the edge of his finer feelings--whatever the answer, prolific
as Art had already proved through the centuries by the manifold and
luscious fruits it had borne, evidently it had not yet attained to the
fulness of time in which it was to bring forth its apocalypse of the
sea; nor was John van Eyck its consecrate expositor.



V

PERIOD OF GREAT ENDEAVOUR


We have now reached the most important period in our painter's career,
coinciding from end to end with his residence in the Flemish
capital, where he died on the 9th of July 1441--a period of over ten
years, in which he produced the ten dated masterpieces we are about to
review, besides a large unfinished triptych and a number of other
paintings to which no exact date can be affixed. Hardly had he taken up
his quarters in Bruges than the Duke summoned him to Hesdin to receive
instructions with regard to the work on which he was to be employed.
Meanwhile, no doubt, Jodoc Vyt had secured his services for the
completion of the Ghent Polyptych: probably it had been an understood
thing all along that John was to finish the work at the first
opportunity. From the account of his movements during the five years
that had elapsed since his brother's death it is obvious that he could
have spared but very brief intervals of leisure for what must, after
all, have been to him a labour of love; the conclusion being that
whatever proportion of the sixteen months immediately following his
return from Portugal he was able to devote to the picture must stand for
his share in the monumental altar-piece that at Hubert's death had
already been ten years in the making.

[Illustration: PLATE VII.--PORTRAIT OF MARGARET VAN EYCK THE PAINTER'S
WIFE

(By John van Eyck)

The daughter of the subject of Plate IV. and probably the sister of Joan
Cenani in Plate V., with both of which it should be compared. In the
Town Gallery, Bruges. See page 66.]

In the early days of December 1431 Cardinal Albergati, special
ambassador from Pope Martin V. to the Courts of France, Burgundy, and
England with a view to bringing about a general peace, spent three days
at the Charterhouse in Bruges as the honoured guest of the Duke, from
whom Van Eyck received urgent instructions to paint the portrait that is
now the property of the Imperial Gallery at Vienna. The time being all
too short for the purpose, John had to be content with the exquisite
drawing in silver-point on a white ground which is still preserved in
the Royal Cabinet of Prints at Dresden, and which is particularly
interesting because of the marginal memoranda in pencil embodying the
most minute observations in the artist's own handwriting for his
guidance in the execution of the painting. A remarkable portrait of a
most remarkable man: for this prince of the Church, a humble son of the
austere Order of the Carthusians, though raised to the Cardinalate and
time after time called upon to serve the Holy See on important
embassies requiring consummate prudence in regard to matters of temporal
policy, discarding his family arms for a simple cross, persevered to the
end in such austerities of the cloister as the wearing of a hair shirt,
total abstinence from flesh-meat, and the use of bare straw for his rude
pallet: a type that must have appealed to Van Eyck, for the picture is a
valuable index of the painter's genius for portraiture. In or about
August of the following year the Burgomasters and Town Council honoured
John with a visit to his workshop, to inspect the various pictures he
was then engaged on. Among these, probably, was the portrait of
"Tymotheos," bearing date October 10, 1432, acquired by the National
Gallery in 1857 for the modest sum of £189, 11s. (Plate III.), and the
"Our Lady and Child" in the collection at Ince Hall, Ince Blundell,
Liverpool, although it was not completed till 1433. The latter is a
delightful instance of the singular love of domesticity which Van Eyck
exemplifies with supreme confidence and success in the Arnolfini
tableau, of which more anon. In the former we have a man verging on
middle age, with dark complexion, blue eyes, angular features, heavy
jaw, thick lips, prominent cheekbones and uplifted nose; presumably a
Greek humanist and a friend of the painter, from the man's Christian
name on the parapet being in Greek character and the manuscript roll he
holds in his hand, and from the inscription "Léal Souvenir": by no means
a handsome type, but true to nature, and presented with all the charm
that Van Eyck was able to endow his least promising subjects with, the
modelling being excellent, and the harmonious colouring aptly relieved
by a dark background.

Somewhere about this time John's thoughts, somewhat later in life than
was the custom of the age, must have been turning on matrimony on his
own account, for we find him purchasing a house in the parish of Saint
Giles, a quarter much affected by painters, and shortly afterwards
engaged on a portrait of the man appointed to be his father-in-law; and
we can picture the Duke, with whom he was ever a special favourite,
being made the confidant of his intentions on the occasion of his visit
to Van Eyck's workshop on the 19th of February 1433, and pleasantly
encouraging him with a promise to stand sponsor for his first-born. At
any rate the wedding took place, and in due course Sir Peter de
Beaufremont, Lord of Chargny, held the infant at the baptismal font as
proxy for Philip, whose present took the form of six silver cups
weighing 12 marks, the order for payment of the account, amounting to
96_l._ 12_s._, to a local goldsmith, John Peutin, bearing date June 30,
1434; and this is the nearest approach we can get at to the date of
either event. Indeed, we have no information as to the sex of the child,
nor are we even acquainted with the maiden name of Van Eyck's wife,
though it has been suggested, with some show of reason, that she was a
sister of Joan Cenani, the wife of John Arnolfini, already referred to;
and it is only within quite recent days that the painting in the
National Gallery commonly spoken of as "the man with the turban" has
been identified, on purely scientific lines, as the portrait of her
father. If the reader will compare this likeness (Plate IV.) with that
of Margaret van Eyck (Plate VII.) he must immediately be struck by the
close resemblance that irresistibly suggests the relationship: the
marvel is that the absolute identity of features in the two portraits
escaped notice so long. The fanciful style of head-dress, except it was
intended to symbolise occupation or profession, remains a puzzle; for it
is difficult to conceive a man of his earnest and dignified disposition
masquerading in strange attire for the mere sake of effect. The best
authorities speak of him as a well-to-do merchant--specialising perhaps
in Eastern wares, such as crowded the marts of the Flemish capital in
the heyday of its prosperity--apparently about sixty-five years of age,
the face being delicately painted in reddish-brown tones, and showing
every detail with uttermost faithfulness, even to the pleats of the
eyelids and at the root of the nose, and to every vein and wrinkle of
the forehead. It is one of the finest exemplifications of John's rare
gift of portraiture, the pleasing modesty of the artist--as revealed in
the inscription "Als ich kan" (to the best of my ability)--adding,
indeed, to the charm of the picture, which bears date October 21, 1433,
and passed into the keeping of the National Gallery in 1851 for the sum
of £315.

It is difficult to refrain from what would appear an over-use of the
superlative in dealing with John van Eyck's works, but if the writer
might be allowed an indulgence he would unhesitatingly avail himself of
it to the full in connection with the exquisite panel (Plate V.) for the
possession of which we are indebted to the honourable wounds which were
the seal of Major-General Hay's part in the battle of Waterloo. After
wandering about Europe as the cherished possession first of Don Diego de
Guevara, councillor of Maximilian and Archduke Charles and Major-domo of
Joan, Queen of Castile; next of Margaret of Austria, Governess of the
Netherlands; subsequently of Mary of Hungary, and eventually of Charles
III. of Spain, it fell into the acquisitive hands of the French invader
of the Peninsula, and by some strange freak of fortune strayed to the
apartments at Brussels in which the gallant major-general was nursed to
recovery, from whose landlord he purchased it, the National Gallery in
the end becoming its owner, in 1842, for the trifling sum of £730. It is
the picture of a newly married couple in a homely Flemish interior, and
in their attempts to solve an imaginary riddle critics have given their
somewhat prolific powers of imagination an unusually free rein. For
instance, the peculiar manner in which the bride sustains the gathered
folds of her skirt--shown by comparison with figures of virgin saints in
other of Van Eyck's paintings to have been a passing fashion of the day,
if an ungraceful one--suggested to some the near approach of her
lying-in, the bedstead in the background as well as the figure of St.
Margaret (a favourite of women in expectation of childbirth) surmounting
the back of the arm-chair naturally tending to confirm the impression;
in corroboration of which the attitude of husband and wife--though the
direction of look in neither lends support to the theory--is explained
as a venture in chiromancy, the adept bridegroom endeavouring to read in
the lines of his wife's hand the future of the coming infant: a
variant elucidation representing the husband as solemnly protesting his
paternity to an inexistent crowd of neighbours at the open door, seeing
that the ingenious reflection of the scene in the circular convex mirror
on the far wall reveals but two additional figures, probably the painter
and his apprentice. Without recourse to fancy, the attitude of
bridegroom and bride, hand in hand, might readily have been seen to
symbolise the perfect union begot of a happy marriage. John's love of
domesticity is abundantly displayed in all the detail of the work--the
chandelier, with lighted taper, dependent from the ceiling, the aumbry
with its couple of oranges, the cushioned bench by the window, the
dainty pair of red shoes on the carpet by the bedside, the pattens of
white wood with black leather latchets in the foreground, even to the
dusting-brush hung on the arm-chair, and the pet griffin terrier, all
helping to heighten the intimacy of the scene; while the cherry-tree in
full bloom, seen through the open window against a sky of clear blue,
serves to fix the season of the year in which the picture was painted.
The portraits are of John Arnolfini and Joan Cenani: the former, in
later years, was knighted and appointed a chamberlain at his court by
Duke Philip, and from the circumstance of his burial in the chapel of
the Lucchese merchants at the Austin Friars' we may presume both his
nationality and calling; the latter, considered in respect of certain
features, especially the eyes, eyebrows, and nose, suggests a sufficient
likeness to warrant the surmise that she was a younger sister of Van
Eyck's wife. The panel, which is in an almost perfect state of
preservation, is a fine example of the painter's vigour of delineation
and perfect blending of colour, both as regards the interior and the
figures, the transparency of shadow in the flesh-tints showing the
utmost delicacy of touch. The picture bears date 1434.

[Illustration: PLATE VIII.--THE VIRGIN AND CHILD, AND CHANCELLOR ROLIN

(By -- van Eyck)

Whether the work of Hubert or of John is still in dispute: hence an
interesting example for the critical student of their respective arts.
Nicholas Rolin was born in 1376, was created Chancellor of Burgundy and
Brabant on December 3, 1422, and died January 18, 1462. The landscape in
the background is distinctly reminiscent of the scenery about
Maastricht, the alma mater of the Van Eycks. The general effect of the
picture is marred by an unpleasant coating of yellow varnish. Date
uncertain. In the Louvre, Paris. See page 78.]

About this time Van Eyck was once more in trouble with the Receiver of
Flanders and his officials. Philip, adding one more to the many marks of
favour reserved for his predilect painter, had bestowed on him a
life-pension of 4320_l._ in lieu of the salary of 100_l._ parisis
awarded him at the time of his engagement. In the absence of any
explanation of this enormous increase, the mystified accountants at
Lille declined registration of the letters patent; but they were
speedily brought to their senses by John's threat, without further waste
of words, to throw up his appointment there and then: so they referred
the matter back to the Duke, who by letters of March 12, 1435, commanded
immediate registration of the patent and payment of the pension under
penalty of his extreme displeasure, protesting that, being about to
employ Van Eyck on works of the highest importance, he "could not find
another painter equally to his taste or of such excellence in his art
and science." Matters being thus satisfactorily composed, John was free
to attend to his patron's behests; in addition to which he had the
gilding and polychroming in 1435 of six of the eight statues of counts
and countesses of Flanders executed by local sculptors for the front of
the new Townhouse, probably from his own designs. Yet another present of
six silver cups, perhaps as a salve for his wounded feelings, and
employment on a further secret mission to distant parts in 1436 testify
to the Duke's abiding trust and approbation. These undertakings,
however, did not exhaust the painter's marvellous capacity for work, for
this year also witnessed the completion of one of the largest of his
pictures, the altar-piece to the order of Canon Van der Paele, for the
collegiate church of Saint Donatian at Bruges (Plate VI.), which since
its recovery from the French in 1815 has graced the collection of the
local Town Gallery. John's love of the Romanesque probably accounts for
his neglect of the architecture of that church in designing the apse of
the transept in which the Virgin and Child sit enthroned, but the scenic
effect produced by his treatment of the series of round arches on
cylindrical columns and of the pillared ambulatory goes far to
compensate for the omission; the beauty of the picture being further
enhanced by the ornate carving of the capitals and throne, the gorgeous
display of cloth-of-gold and tapestry, and the rich variety of dress and
costume, culminating in all the splendour of the archiepiscopal
vestments, yet not so overpowering as to dwarf interest in the noble
countenance of the wearer. Howbeit, the artist was singularly
unfortunate in the subjects appointed to pose for the Virgin and St.
George, while the Divine Child is probably the least pleasing of his
Infant Christs. St. Donatian, however, and the homely yet dignified
ecclesiastic typified as the Donor, largely redeem the figure-work from
the charge of insignificance. It would appear that the life-size bust of
Canon Van der Paele at Hampton Court Palace was a study for the
full-length portrait, for at the time the altar-piece was being executed
the worthy Canon was already so feeble that since September 1434 he had
been dispensed by the Chapter from attendance in choir on the score of
infirmity and advanced age.

The "Portrait of John De Leeuw, goldsmith," in the Imperial Gallery at
Vienna (1436), and two charming pictures in the Antwerp Museum--"Saint
Barbara" (1437) and the "Our Lady and Child by a Fountain" (1439)--come
next in order of the artist's dated pieces, the series closing with the
"Portrait of Margaret van Eyck" (Plate VII.) in the Town Gallery at
Bruges, which bears date June 17, 1439: a work of marvellous delicacy
and finish, and a tribute of love worthy alike of the painter-husband
and his devoted wife; the latter an intelligent type of the competent
Flemish housewife, clear and steady of eye and firm of mouth, portrayed
with infinite minuteness and not the least concession to vanity.
Formerly the property of the Guild of Painters and Saddlers, it used
annually to be exhibited in their chapel on St. Luke's Day, amply
secured, if we believe the popular legend, with chain and padlock,
because of the companion picture, Van Eyck's own portrait, having been
stolen through lack of similar precautions.

The sad loss to Art sustained by John van Eyck's death on the 9th of
July 1441 is accentuated by the unfinished state in which he left the
great triptych on which he was engaged for Nicholas van Maelbeke,
Provost of Saint Martin's at Ypres, his largest painting and, had he but
lived to complete it, in every respect his masterpiece. As a member of
the Duke's household John was buried within the precincts of the
collegiate church of St. Donatian, and his remains finally laid to rest
some months later within the building, near the font; and an anniversary
Requiem Mass, founded at the time, continued to be celebrated until the
French invasion in 1792. In death as in life Duke Philip never forgot
his faithful friend and servant: within a few days of his decease he
sought to solace the widow's grief with a gratuity of 360_l._ in token
of his appreciation of the great master whose death they all mourned,
and years after he graciously assisted Livina, the one surviving child
of the marriage, and a sister of his own godchild, to enter the Convent
of St. Agnes at Maaseyck.



A NOTE IN CONCLUSION


However representative the great masterpieces which it has been possible
to notice within the scope of this monograph, we are far yet from
having covered the art of the Van Eycks; and, strangely enough, the same
difficulty that is met in apportioning to each his share in the Great
Polyptych recurs when seeking to ascribe a number of other paintings
which are certainly the work of one or other of the brothers. The study
of these will always appeal to the intelligent student of their art, and
as a typical example of the group we present the altar-piece known as
"The Blessed Virgin and Child and Chancellor Rolin" (Plate VIII.), in
the Louvre, Paris: a remarkable work in respect of types, of
portraiture, and of landscape, every detail of which has been elaborated
to a degree scarcely conceivable. Many other of their paintings are to
be found scattered over Europe, along with much that is the work of
copyist, pupil, or imitator, too often with idle claims to authenticity;
for the influence of the Van Eycks was coextensive with the art world of
their day. Truthfulness, it has been observed, was the dominant note of
their art, and by their sedulous cultivation of Truth they dominated the
art of their age. With John this love of truth amounted well-nigh to a
passion; and the reproach of the carping critic to whom beauty of
feature alone makes for beauty of portraiture fails of its effect on the
true artist mind, to whom the faithful record of all trifling blemishes
of the face is but an added testimony and guarantee of the fidelity of
the portrait as a portrait of the inner as well as of the outer man.
Even a great painter may enhance his present popularity and widen his
clientèle by a flattering suppression of personal disfigurement, but
only to the injury of his fame and the hurt of his own self-respect.
John van Eyck scorned to grovel at the feet of Vanity, and with this
acknowledgment of the sense and honesty of his sitters he combined the
fulfilment of a duty to posterity, for with the true instinct of genius
he knew that he was painting not for his own brief day, but for all
time, and that, as the founder of a great school of portraiture and the
father of landscape art, it behoved him to set an example of the
cardinal principle which should direct them. Under any conditions John
van Eyck's genius must have asserted itself, but happily it was
fortunate in its setting, for the brilliancy of the great Burgundian
court and the sumptuous patronage of Duke Philip in the full blaze of
his power and glory were invaluable aids to the production and
dissemination of his art. Nor did success spoil his sterling nature:
amidst all the triumphs of his life his character remained singularly
free from the tarnish of empty pride, to the last the exquisite yield of
his art being given to the world in a charming spirit of apology so
aptly embodied in the simple motto of his choosing, "Als ich kan." And
who among all the great painters of the after ages has done better?


    The plates are printed by BEMROSE & SONS, LTD., Derby and London
    The text at the BALLANTYNE PRESS, Edinburgh



       *       *       *       *       *



Transcriber's note:

PLATE IV. reference to page 76 changed to 66, as that is the page which
actually references this Plate.





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