Jan van Eyck: The Play of Realism, Second Updated and Expanded Edition

Jan van Eyck: The Play of Realism, Second Updated and Expanded Edition

Craig Harbison

Language: English

Pages: 317

ISBN: 1861898207

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


The surviving work of Flemish painter Jan van Eyck (c. 1395–1441) consists of a series of painstakingly detailed oil paintings of astonishing verisimilitude. Most explanations of the meanings behind these paintings have been grounded in a disguised religious symbolism that critics have insisted is foremost. But in Jan van Eyck, Craig Harbison sets aside these explanations and turns instead to the neglected human dimension he finds clearly present in these works. Harbison investigates the personal histories of the true models and participants who sat for such masterpieces as the Virgin and Child and the Arnolfini Double Portrait.

This revised and expanded edition includes many illustrations and reveals how van Eyck presented his contemporaries with a more subtle and complex view of the value of appearances as a route to understanding the meaning of life.

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for private epiphany and personal justification. Van der Paele emerges from this painting as having not been at all immune to the attractions of the spiritual movement known as the Modern Devotion. This movement is perhaps the best single indication of the direction of popular piety in the Netherlands in the last quarter of the fourteenth  Master of Catherine of Cleves, Catherine of Cleves Praying to the Virgin, c. , from the Book of Hours of Catherine of Cleves.    

achieved the highest rank of any simple lawyer in the Burgundian bureaucracy. With the assassination of Duke John in , and the accession of Duke Philip the Good, Rolin’s career received a tremendous boost. He was knighted, and made Chancellor by . For the next thirty-five years Rolin reigned supreme in the Burgundian Court; its historiog rapher observed that he had the role of ‘regardeur de le tout’. Rolin acted as one of Philip’s chief political negotiators with external enemies and with

the work. Had he made a half-length image of the Virgin and Child in his own realistic style he would have ended up, almost by necessity, accentuating the pair’s earthly physical bond – a portrait of mother and child. This is the kind of image that Rogier van der Weyden was later to perfect (illus. ). What van Eyck wanted to learn from the icon was quite different from this human truth. The distancing devices, including the diagonally arranged compositions,   ’   are

fifteenth-century painters brought to bear on the world. Our explanation   ’  of van Eyck frequently avoids the notion of selectivity, and seems to claim that the artist simply opened his eyes. In a sense, this situation is the result of our own system of categorization: if we promote a concept of objective realism, then we need an artist, in this case van Eyck, who most fully embodies it. Van Eyck’s work is also forced to be the perfect embodiment of the other ruling concept

earnestness can overwhelm something important that at least found its way into the book’s title: playfulness, the sense that even deeply religious imagery can be fun, can provide a sense of gamesmanship, playing for keeps at the edge. The new Afterword attempts to play on the edge between art and belief more fully.     Since the time of its first publication, this book has not often been cited in specialized art-historical literature. I think this is due to the fact that I do not

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