Assuming his brother’s mantle


It’s hardly noticeable, but there is a reason for it being there. Hubert van Eyck is draped in a full length coat. Its colour is blue. A pointed toe protrudes from beneath the white hem of the garment. It appears to be directed at the heel of one of the front legs of the horse alongside.

Hubert-VE_300Hubert’s robe is full length and represents the blue mantle of the Virgin Mary. The toe is the head of the serpent that tempted Adam and Eve in the biblical story of Genesis, and refers to the words spoken by God to the serpent: “I will make you enemies of each other – you and the woman – your offspring and her offspring. It will crush your head and you will strike its heel. (Genesis 3 : 15).

In the painted copy the serpent’s head is not as well-defined as in the photo-copy of the original panel of the Just Judges. Conversely, the heel of the horse is more visible in the Veken copy than in the photographic version.

Mary’s Mantle is a symbol of protection. A mantle is is also symbolic of an important role or responsibility that passes from one person to another. Following the death of his brother Hubert in 1426, Jan van Eyck was handed the responsibility of completing the Ghent Altarpiece.

Lost art: the Ghent Altarpiece

Completed in 1432, but begun by Jan van Eyck’s older brother, this masterpiece of 15th-century Flemish painting was the most famous artwork in Europe upon its completion, and an object of pilgrimage for artists and thinkers. It was the target of some 13 different crimes, including having been stolen, all or in part, six times. Its story is more bizarre than fiction could possibly invent—and new twists in the tale continue to come out today.

Read more on this at the art newspaper

Ghent Altarpiece study day

Ghent Altarpiece, Second International Study Day

Ghent University, Aula Academica
Voldersstraat 9, September 11, 2018

The Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA, Brussels) and Ghent University (UGent) are pleased to announce the 2nd Ghent Altarpiece International Study Day on 11 September 2018 in Ghent.

More details at: medieval art research

Colour-coded judges

Riders_900image source: closer to van eyck

The sky is blue and so its colour symbolises heaven and holiness. In the Just Judges panel there are five figures that bear the colour blue. Two riders wear blue coats and two others are given blue hats. The fifth figure, the rider at the corner point of the group, wears a hat with a band of blue circles.

Blue is also the colour associated with the Virgin Mary.

Seemingly Jan van Eyck has colour-coded the four riders to associate them with some aspect of holiness.

The bearded figure placed behind Jan’s brother Hubert in the forefront has four identities. All of them are associated with “holiness”. At this stage I’ll mention just one: St Bavo, patron saint of Ghent and the Cathedral Basilica where the painting is housed.

St Bavo was a soldier said to have led a disorderly early life. After hearing a sermon by St Amand preaching against a life based on riches, he became a Christian and later a monk.

The all-seeing eye

In the previous post I presented two reasons why the dual figure of Jan van Eyck and Philip the Good is leaning into the rider in red. The first was about gossip; the second was Jan posing as if looking into a mirror, or at the viewer, or perhaps even at himself

The two images below are from a photograph of the lost Just Judges panel before it was stolen in 1934 and therefore an accurate depiction than the copy painted later by Jef Van der Veken and used as a replacement in the Ghent Altarpiece.


The first point to observe is Jan’s head and the head of the horse are turned inwards. The horse appears to be both looking in on itself and at the viewer, similar to Jan.

Focus on the eye of the horse and an image of the side of a man’s face appears. It represents the all-seeing eye of God. It’s not the first time Van Eyck has used this motif in his work. He did so in the Prayer on the Shore manuscript that forms part of the Turin-Milan Hours.

There are more features about the white horse that confirm Van Eyck is pointing to the passage from Revelation 19 : 11 – “And now I saw heaven open, and a white horse appear; its rider was called Faithful and True; he is a judge with integrity, a warrior for justice.”

Perhaps Van Eyck is also reminding himself and viewers of another biblical passage on judgement – Matthew 7 : 1-2. “Do not judge and you will not be judged; because the judgements you give are the judgements you will get, and the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given.”

Notice also that in the black and white photo reproduction of the original panel Van Eyck’s right eye appears damaged. This is not the case in painted copy shown below.

Eyes  one-eye-2

Perhaps the copyist considered that the original panel had been damaged in some way but I reckon it was deliberate on Van Eyck’s part.

Comparing Jan’s imperfect eye with the all-seeing eye is pointer to the next verse from Matthew’s passage on judgement: “Why do you observe the splinter in your brother’s eye and never notice the plank in your own?”

It seems Van Eyck is owning up to his own imperfections, a confession of a sort, and also probably pointing to another verse from scripture: 1 Corinthians 13 : 12-13 – “Now we are seeing a dim reflection in a mirror; but then we shall be seeing face to face. The knowledge that I have now is imperfect; but then I shall know as fully as I am known.”

A full analysis of the iconography found in this panel, along with an ID of all the figures and how they connect, will feature on my website at a later date.

If not Jan, then who?

image source: closer to van eyck

It’s generally accepted that the face gazing out of the Just Judges panel is Jan van Eyck, Hubert’s brother. The pose is like a modern-day ‘selfie’ and portrayed to make eye contact with the viewer – a common technique adopted by artists to identify themselves and their work.

However, in this case Jan has given a second identity to the man in black, that of Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy. Van Eyck has also applied multiple identities to some of the other figures in this section of the Ghent Altarpiece.

There are a couple of reasons why the duke and his court artist are coupled and positioned leaning into the figure wearing the red hat. Firstly its about conversation, or more precisely, gossip. Secondly, Jan is presenting a mirror effect, repeated two years later in his famous Arnolfini Portrait, and for a similar reason. So where or what is the mirror feature in the frame?

More on this in my next post.

If not Hubert, then who?

source: closer to van eyck

There is a consensus among art historians that the figure on the white horse in the forefront of the Just Judges panel is Hubert van Eyck (brother of Jan) and who was first commissioned to produce the Ghent Altarpiece? But is it?

Hubert-lineMost of the drawings said to be of Hubert were produced at a later date and modelled on the features shown in the Just Judges panel. No-one really knows what he looked like, Jan excluded.

But could the man on the white horse be someone else, or even represent two people, perhaps Hubert and another person, a kind of coupling to link the next rider?

Imagine the front-line of horsemen (see previous post), coupled together, shoulder to shoulder, as if oxen under one yoke ploughing a field, heading in the same direction and serving a common purpose – a crusade, perhaps?

For sure there are multiple identities among the ten riders, but who exactly are the Just Judges and in what sense could Hubert van Eyck be considered a Just Judge?

Just Judges panel down to Jan

Art historians generally attribute the initial work and concept for the Ghent Altarpiece to Hubert van Eyck and credit his younger brother Jan with painting the panels between 1430 and 1432.

just-judgesHowever, my research to identify the horsemen featured in the Just Judges panel confirms that this particular section refers to events after Hubert’s death in 1426 and therefore both the concept and the painting of the Just Judges can only be attributed to Jan and was likely the final panel completed before the altarpiece was unveiled in May 1432.

In 1934 two of the altarpiece panels were stolen, the Just Judges and St John the Baptist. The latter was soon returned but the Just Judges is still missing.

In 1939 the Belgian art restorer and copyist Jef Van der Veken began making a copy of the stolen panel, working from an earlier photograph and also a copy made in the 16th century by Michiel Coxcie. However his work was interrupted by the Second World War until 1945. It is this copy that now forms part of the original altarpiece that can be seen at St Bavo Cathedral in Ghent.

• Image source: Closer to Van Eyck

Reading into the Magdalen Reading

The Magdalen Reading is described by Wikipedia as “one of three surviving fragments of a large mid-15th-century oil on panel altarpiece by the Early Netherlandish painter Rogier van der Weyden. The panel, originally oak, was completed some time between 1435 and 1438 and has been in the National Gallery, London since 1860.”

One of the surviving fragments is a portrait generally assumed to be Joseph the husband of the Virgin Mary. The Joseph portrait is housed at the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon, along with the third fragment thought to be Catherine of Alexandria. The original altarpiece is associated with a drawing known as Virgin and Child with Saints in Stockholm’s National Museum of Fine Arts.



Three Flemish primitives

The painting below is attributed to the workshop of Roger van der Weyden and located at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts Belgium. Its title is King David Receives the Water of Bethlehem. Measuring 50cm x 32.7cm, the painting is dated between 1451 and 1475. It appears to be a section of a larger work but I don’t have access to any information to confirm this.

Three painters are featured in the foreground: Roger Campin, Rogier van der Weyden and Jan van Eyck.

More details on this at Water of Bethlehem

Water of Bethlehem

Van Eyck original Lamb restored

After intensive research the restoration team of the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA), Brussels) has removed the old overpaint that masked the main figure of the Ghent Altarpiece for nearly five centuries. As such, the well-known Lamb – an impassive and rather neutral figure, with a wide forehead and large ears – has given way to the Van Eycks’ original. More at Flemish Primitives.


Outward signs


So why did Rogier van der Weyden make reference to Jan van Eyck in all of the seven sacraments of the famous altarpiece he painted just a few years after Jan’s death?

Augustine of Hippo defined a Sacrament as an outward sign of inward grace instituted by Christ. Was Jan perceived to be grace-filled – not only “one so excellent in his art and science” as once described by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, but also in faith and life as a Christian?

There can be no doubt that Van der Weyden was an adherent of Van Eyck. The Seven Sacraments Altarpiece is not the only painting by Rogier to depict Jan in the frame. There are at least three other works.

More on the Seven Sacraments Altarpiece and the presence of Van Eyck at this link.

The Birth of John the Baptist


This domestic scene showing the Birth of John the Baptist is from the illuminated manuscript known as the Turin-Milan Hours. While there is some debate about the attribution to Jan Van Eyck for this folio, the consensus is that it is by Jan’s hand and painted between 1422 and 1425 during the period he was employed by John III of Bavaria.

Having previously demonstrated how the iconography in the Arnolfini Portrait points to the Turin Shroud, this domestic scene showing the Birth of John the Baptist sheds further light on Jan van Eyck’s fascination with the relic claimed by some to be the burial cloth of Jesus.

That the miniature has similarities to the Arnolfini Portrait has not gone unnoticed by art historians; the red bed, the woman in the green dress, the dog in the forefront, the pattens pointing to the edge of the frame, the beams supporting the ceiling, together suggest that Van Eyck sourced his earlier work and replicated some of its features in the Arnolfini Portrait. Seemingly, the Birth of John the Baptist served as a ‘precursor’ to the later painting dated by Van Eyck at 1434.

Beneath this representation of the biblical account of the Baptist’s birth (Luke 1 : 5-25, 57-79) is another narrative, one similarly found in the Arnolfini Portrait. In both paintings the setting corresponds to a chapel housing holy relics.

The chapel scene and contents in the Birth of John the Baptist represents the Sainte Chapelle in Paris, built in the 13th century by Louis IX to house the many holy relics (including the Shroud) ceded to him by Baudouin II of Constantinople.

Van Eyck also incorporates his interest in astronomy with references to celestial objects, and points to the heavenly light transmitted through passages from Scripture. Just as John the Baptist (Jan) was commissioned as a witness to speak for the light (John 1 : 8), so also is Jan van Eyck in his role as an artist and illuminator.

The Birth of John the Baptist is my next presentation at which I plan to post at the end of August. It will focus on the iconography in the scene representing some 20 holy relics from an inventory produced by Baudouin ll for Louis IX in 1247.

Judge for yourself


How’s this for a match-up? On the left is what is considered by some to be a self portrait of Jan van Eyck from the Just Judges panel of the Ghent Altarpiece, completed in 1432. On the right, a portrait of a man from the Petrus Christus painting, A Goldsmith in his Shop, dated 1449.

Is there reason for this? Of course, and not just because Petrus took over Jan’s workshop after his death in 1441 and was considered his successor.  More significantly the match-up is a lead to identifying some of the figures featured in the stolen and still missing Just Judges panel.

Planning to post a presentation on this sometime in September.

Still searching…

just-judgesCould we be one step closer to solving Belgium’s most enduring mystery – the disappearance of the Just Judges panel from the world-famous altarpiece known in English as the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb by Jan Van Eyck and his brother Hubert? The work is considered one of the greatest masterpieces of early Netherlandish art, and was created for St. Bavo’s Cathedral in Ghent, painted by Jan Van Eyck between 1430 and 1432, according to a design made by Hubert a decade earlier.

More at The Brussels Times

• I have since discovered that the panel to the right of the Just Judges, referred to as the Knights of Christ, has features that connect to the Arnolfini Portrait and Jan’s Portrait of a Man (Léal Souvenir).

Another discovery is that the Petrus Christus painting, A Goldsmith in his Shop, was also inspired by these three works of Van Eyck. More about this at a later date.




Can it be coincidence that the seated figure in the Petrus Christus painting “A Goldsmith in his Shop” (1449) is similar in composition and concept to Jan van Eyck’s Léal Souvenir portrait of Pierre de Bauffremont (1432)?

The inscribed underside of the shop counter and foundation stone share the same theme of a sacrificial altar; the faraway, searching gaze of the two men, both wearing red pleated coats and holding an object in the right hand, is also matched; the hand descending on the shoulder mirrors the descending liripipe of the green chaperon; the  left forearm of both men extends across their chest and the sleeve cuff is fur-lined – but note the fur cuff is absent on the right sleeves!

So is Petrus attempting to link the identity of the man in Van Eyck’s painting, Pierre de Bauffremont, with one of the identies assigned to the goldsmith, apart from St Eligius? Or is he hinting at the possibility that the woman, standing at the goldsmith’s right hand and portrayed as Joan of Arc, may have had some connection to Pierre?

In an article for the British Society for the Turin Shroud and re-published at the Shroud of Turin website, researcher Hugh Duncan has raised the possibility Joan of Arc, as a child, may have visted the Bauffremont castle located a few kilometres from Doremy where Joan was brought up.


A Goldsmith in his Shop by Petrus Christus 1449
Robert Lehman Collection, 1975. On view at The Met Fifth Avenue

Portrait of Pierre

Leal_Souvenir_800I am now able to confirm the name of the person who is the subject of Jan van Eyck’s Portrait of a Man (Léal Souvenir) painted in 1432, and now housed in the National Gallery, London.

It’s Pierre de Bauffremont (c1400 – 1472), Count of Charney and Lord of Montfort. He was Sénéchal of Burgundy and a Knight of the Order of the Golden Fleece founded by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. Pierre was also married to Marie de Bourgogne, a legitimised daughter of the Duke. It was his third marriage.

Incidently, what is often referred to in the painting as a parapet, isn’t. It represents an inscribed foundation stone. The painting is also linked to two other paintings by Van Eyck, the Arnolfini Portrait and Portrait of a Man in a Red Turban. He also features in Rogier van der Weyden’s Seven Sacraments Altarpiece.

Full details at a later date to be published at