October 1, 2023


How Art Works

Van Eyck Brothers as “Simply Judges”

3 min read

Earlier this week I found a brand new(ish) Smarthistory video about Karel Van Mander, an early Seventeenth-century biographer of painters who is typically known as the “Northern Vasari.” The video spends a while that includes a print which depicts the painter Jan Van Eyck. This portrait appeared in Van Mander’s publication Het Schilderboeck.

Karel van Mander, Het Schilder-Boeck (Haarlem: Paschier van Wesbusch, 1604), first version in two volumes with added illustrations, 21 x 16.7 x 5.8 cm (Museum of Positive Arts, Boston). Picture courtesy of Steven Zucker and Smarthistory by way of Fickr.

The video stories at 3:33 that this portrait is predicated off of Van Eyck’s portray Man with the Purple Turban, however I don’t assume that I agree. Karel Van Mander’s personal account of Jan Van Eyck clearly describes a self-portrait of the artist that’s nestled among the many Just Judges panel of the Ghent altarpiece. It might make sense that the portrait in Van Mander’s publication would match Van Mander’s personal description. Additionally, it’s clear when evaluating these two portraits that they’re comparable in composition, not simply because of the angle of the heads but in addition the angles of the turban folds and the inclusion of rosary beads.

Jef Van der Veken’s fashionable copy after Jan Van Eyck’s “Simply Judges” panel, from the Ghent altarpiece, authentic from 1432.

Van Mander’s description of the self-portrait is nestled amongst descriptions of panels of the Ghent altarpiece. Van Mander explains that the 2 Van Eyck brothers who labored on this altarpiece, Hubert and Jan, are each depicted within the Simply Judges panel (the panel on the decrease left of the open altarpiece). The outline by Van Mander, translated into English, is as follows:

On the opposite panels are figures on horseback…the 2 painters, Hubert and Jan. Hubert sits on the right-hand aspect of his brother in accordance together with his seniority; he seems, in comparison with his brother, fairly previous. On his head he wears an odd hat with a raised, turned-back brim on the entrance of valuable fur. Jan wears a really ingenious hat, one thing like a turban which hangs down from behind; and over a black tabard he wears a crimson rosary with a medal.1

If we comply with Van Mander’s description, then Hubert is probably going the determine in profile view, who’s on the proper of Jan Van Eyck. I don’t assume Hubert was pinpointed to be the determine instantly subsequent to Jan. A photograph of the unique, now-lost Simply Judges panel reveals that determine was partially coated up with the “valuable fur” that Van Mander described. The trendy copyist, Jef Van der Veken, ended up decreasing the scale of the fur brim, as might be seen on this comparability:

{Photograph} of Van Eyck’s authentic Simply Judges panel vs Van der Veken’s copy of the Simply Judges panel. Picture by way of Catchlight blog

If Van Mander is appropriate, this panel is additional particular as a result of it contained depictions of not solely the 2 Van Eyck brothers, however presumably different notable folks too (Van Mander mentions a “Depend of Flanders” and other speculations abound as to the identification of the figures). Maybe it isn’t shocking, then, that this was the panel that was stolen in 1934 and by no means recovered. If you’re occupied with studying extra about this stolen panel, I like to recommend Noah Charney’s guide Stealing the Mystic Lamb (which I’ve mentioned in a earlier put up).

1 Karel Van Mander, Het Schilderboeck, Haarlem, 1406. English translation Eric Fernie’s Artwork Historical past and its Strategies (London: Phaidon Press, 1995), p. 51.

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