Jan Van Eyck
This paper attempts to discuss the life and the work of the Flemish painter Jan Van Eyck. We will try to relate aspects of his biography to the nature and content of his work and we will end by saying a few words about the impact his work had upon the Renaissance as a whole.
In terms of the question of both his career and his influence, the place and location of Van Eyck’s birth was highly important. Kurz has declared the date of his birth to be “guesswork ” and Hughes is content to say that it was “…somewhere around 1390…”. But being born a Fleming on the threshold of the 15th century was a fortuitous occurrence. This was so because of political and economic factors. Valentin et al state “The unification of the Low Countries under the dukes of Burgundy marked the beginning of an independent indigenous school of painting in the southern Netherlands.” The House of Burgundy was cosmopolitan and pan-European in its connections and consciousness. And it dispensed patronage lavishly. Those two facts boded well for Van Eyck in terms of obtaining the resources needed to practice his craft, the esteem in which he came to be regarded at the ducal court, and his ability to participate in—to influence and to be influenced by—European art as a whole. Valentin et al note that the rich patronage bestowed on artists by the ducal house was emulated by lesser aristocrats and wealthy bourgeoisies, that the court had numerous contacts with the other courts of Europe—including Italy—and that, in time, a high demand developed in Italy for the works of Flemish painters. Moreover, because the court and nation were affluent, the domestic market for art was very strong. Flanders in the Fifteenth Century compares the role played by the Flanders bourgeoisie of Van Eyck’s time to that played by newly rich Americans at the end of the nineteenth century. The social cache’ of art prompted a great deal of expenditure and that meant lucrative contracts for favored artists. Clearly, Jan Van Eyck was born in the right time and at the right place.