to Top

Jan van Eyck

Around 1390-1441


Jan van Eyck<BR> Enlarge

Jan Van Eyck (YAHN van IKE) was born in the Netherlands. The exact year of his birth isn't known, but it was somewhere around 1390.

His paintings are very detailed. Most artists of the time painted with tempera, a mixture of colored powder and egg yolk plus some other substance. Tempera dried quickly and the artist had to work fast. When it dried it had a dull finish and if a sheen was desired, a glaze had to be applied.

Van Eyck was not the first to use oil paint, but he mastered the use of oil in paints. He was able to get stunning results. He used walnut oil and other oils to make the paints and let each thin coat of paint dry before applying another coat of paint over it, giving the painting a three-dimensional appearance. The colors in his paintings are delicate and have a beautiful shine.

He was called "The King of Painters" by people even hundreds of years after his time.

Duke Philip the Good of France wanted to marry Princess Isabella of Portugal. He sent Van Eyck on a diplomatic journey to propse to her. He had never seen her and there were no cameras or photographs in those days. Van Eyck painted a portrait of Isabella to bring back to him. Evidently Duke Philip was pleased with the results.

The painting we are studying; The Arnolfini Marriage, is a record of the marriage of the two people in the picture. In modern days, a couple would hire a photographer to record their wedding. Giovanni Arnolfini hired an artist to paint the picture. In addition to being a portrait, it is also a legal record showing that the marriage took place. The artist signs it as a legal document.

In The Arnolfini Marriage all the objects in the room have meaning. Oranges and lemons were very expensive because they had to be imported from Spain. There are four oranges in the picture suggesting the wealth of the couple. The little dog is also an expensive breed.

The way the women wore their dresses gathered up in front made them look pregnant whether they were or not. Some historians surmise this painting is an actual wedding portrait and that the figures in the mirror might be witnesses. Others say the couple was only engaged and one source will tell you his marriage was recorded in 1447 and the picture was painted in 1434. So, who was that woman? We can only surmise. You will enjoy looking at some of the details of the painting in the Research Links.

Van Eyck painted several pictures of Mary and Jesus including a beautiful painting called Madonna in the Church which was painted in the 1430's.
Another Madonna painting which still exists Madonna at the Fountain can be compared to the sketch he made in preparation for the painting.

Van Eyck painted portraits of people. We don't know who the posed for Man with Carnation.

Man with Carnation and the Order of Saint Anthony

There is debate about the identity of Margaret Van Eyck. It was probably his wife, but some say he had a sister named Margaret.

Margaret Van Eyck

The third picture is Giovanni Arnolfini, the subject of the The Arnolfini Marriage.

Giovanni Arnolfini

It is thought that Jan Van Eyck had a brother named Hubert who was 20 years older. Supposedly, the famous Ghent Altarpiece was started by Hubert and finished by Jan after his brother's death. He painted over some of the work Hubert had already done. Since their style was similar, it is hard to tell which artist painted particular parts of the altarpiece. This magnificent painting is very large and painted in several panels, 12 in all which fold toward the center. There are more paintings on the back of the panels. The work is approximately 12 by 18 feet. A triptych (TRIP-tik) has three panels. This would be called a polyptych (POL-ip-tik), having many panels. The altarpiece is in the Cathedral of St. Bavon in Ghent. After completing this huge work he painted much smaller pictures.

Ghent Altarpiece (detail)

The Adoration of the Lamb (detail)

Van Eyck married in 1431 and bought the house where he would spend the rest of his life. After his death his widow was having money problems and Duke Philip was kind to her and helped her financially.

Portrait of a Man in a Turban,
1433 probably a self-portrait

This biography was written by Patsy Stevens, a retired teacher.


Hammacher, A.M., and R. Hammacher Vandenbrande. Flemish and Dutch Art. New York: Franklin Watt, Inc, 1965. Order

Kostner, Thomas, and Lars Roper. 50 Artists You Should Know. New York: Prestel, 2006. Order

Wilder, Jesse Bryant. Art History for Dummies. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing Inc, 2007. Order

Weale, W.H.James. Hubert and John Van Eyck. New York: John Lane Company, 1908. full view

Take the online test

A frequent question:
"Who wrote this biography
and when was it written?"
Look on this Reference Citations Chart.


Online ActivitiesPrintable Activities
Take the Online Test for this Artist Print Test for this Artist
Online Jigsaw Puzzle Print Study Sheet
Online Crossword Puzzle Print Crossword Puzzle
  Print Word Search
Online Word Scramble Print Word Scramble
  Print Coloring
  Print Alphabetical
  Print Worksheet
Memory Puzzle  
Who Is The Artist  

Art Gallery Famous Paintings Volume 1

Art Gallery Famous Paintings Volume 2

Name the Painting

Research Links

The Betrothal of the Arnolfini
Use the Image Viewer on the page to see an even enlarger view.

Van Eyck Biography

Ghent Altarpiece

Jan Van Eyck (audio)
Engines of Our Ingenuity.


Press "Go" to search for books about Jan van Eyck


Order the following books from Amazon.

Stories of Art and Artists
by Clara Erskine Clement Waters 1887 (full view)

St. Nicholas, Volume 10, Part 1
by Mary Mapes Dodge 1883 (full view)

The Approach to Painting
by Thomas Bodkin (selected pages)

Inventing van Eyck: the remaking of an artist for the modern age
by (selected pages)

Stories of the Flemish & Dutch artists
by Victor Reynolds (full view)

Painters on Painting
by Eric Protter (selected pages)

How to study pictures by means of a series of comparisons of paintings and Painters
by Charles Henry Caffin 1918 (full view)

The Art of the Berlin Galleries
by David Charles Preyer 1912 (full view)

Handbook of painting: the german, Flemish, and Dutch schools, Volume 1
by Franz Kugler, Gustav Friedrich Waagen, Joseph Archer Crowe 1889 (full view)

Credits and Solutions

Puzzles on these pages courtesy of
Songs of Praise and Armored Penguin

Picture courtesy of The Artchive Patron Program

Page Comments
Most Recent Comments
See more comments about this page
Thanks for the information. I made a killer paper with it!
Lovely explanation of one of the oldest wedding portrait paintings! Today it's becoming popular to hire a<a href="">live wedding painter</a>, anyone done this?
The dog in this painting is soooo cute!
Where is the link "Details of the Painting"?
gives alot of info
milly collins
Leave a Comment View all Comments

This page displayed 207,117 times.

This is a mobile page of Garden of Praise. You are using a desktop computer. Try viewing the mobile pages on your smart phone.