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.