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’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.
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