Jan van Eyck (1390s - 1441): Portrait of a Man (Probably a5/25/2021, 10:36:58 AM
Jan van Eyck (1390s - 1441): Portrait of a Man (Probably a self-portrait), 1433, Oil on oak, 26 x 19 cm, National Gallery, London We are back in Renaissance period; this time Northern Renaissance, beginning with Jan van Eyck. Jan van Eyck was an Early Netherlandish painter active in Bruges and one of the most significant Northern Renaissance artists of the 15th century. He is credited with originating a style of painting characterised by minutely realistic depictions of surface effects and natural light. This was made possible by using an oil medium, which allowed the building up of paint in translucent layers, or glazes. 'Portrait of a Man' is signed and inscribed in an elaborate way on the frame, which is the original. The top inscription, which uses some Greek letters, is a punning allusion to the painter's name: 'Als Ich Can' (as I/Eyck can). The bottom inscription, in Latin, gives the name of the painter and the date: 'Jan van Eyck made me on 21 October 1433'. The letters are painted to look as though they have been carved. The painting, so carefully inscribed, was presumably one of particular significance to the painter, and it has been suggested that it may be a self portrait, though there is no direct evidence for this. The costume is appropriate for a man of van Eyck's social position, and the motto is his personal one, otherwise only appearing on two surviving religious paintings, two more known only from copies, and the portrait of his wife. In none of these is it as prominent as here, a primary reason, along with the very direct but bloodshot gaze, why the work is usually viewed as a self-portrait. Typically for van Eyck, the head is a little large in relation to the torso. The artist uses light and shade in a subtle and dramatic way: the sitter seems to emerge from darkness, his face and headdress modelled by the light that falls from the left. The viewer is drawn towards the image by the penetrating gaze of the sitter. He is not, as it is commonly thought, wearing a turban, but a chaperon with the ends that normally hang down tied up over the top, which would be a sensible precaution if it was worn whilst painting.