xlviii HISTORICAL SKETCH OF ART
Vydt commissioned him in 1420 to paint for the St. Bavon church
in Ghent, and which he left unfinished in 1426. We are also
very imperfectly informed of Jan’s early training, though we know
a good deal about his public career. While Ilubert, it would
appear, found favour with the wealthy burghers of Ghent, Jan
took service in the courts, first at The Hague (1422-24) with John
of Bavaria, afterwards (1426-23) at Lille with Philip the Good,
in whose interests he visited Portugal in 1428. In 1434 we find
him in Bruges, at work on the Ghent altarpiece, which he brought
to completion on May 6th, 1432.
The Ghent altar-piece forms the most important monument of
the early-Flemish school of painting. In it the artist still clings to
the traditional roles of composition in the observance of the se-
verely symmetrical proportions of an architectural structure. But
while he fails to dispose the crowd of figures in separate groups,
he succeeds in giving to the heads a portrait-like individuality; he
is careful to render the varied texture of the draperies, and in
modelling the nude figure he closely imitates nature in every
minute particular. For example, in the figure of Adam (now
detached from the original picture and preserved along with Eye in
the Brussels Museum, p. 115), even the short hairs of the arms and
legs are carefully elaborated. But the most surprising innovation is
in the colouring, to which he gave wonderful force and harmony,
using it to give effect to an appearance of reality almost deceptive.
The old belief that Hubert invented oil-painting cannot indeed be
unreservedly accepted. But, although oil had long been in use as a
vehicle, Hubert’s merit is not the less conspicuous. He is still the
first who adapted the invention to the purposes of art, by employing
the fluid medium for the more subtle blending of colours. By this
means he so far facilitated the process of painting, that the endea-
vour to give a faithful, lifelike rendering of nature was com-
pletely successful. He possessed himself of the means by which alone
effect could be given to the new impulse in art. Wecan have no
better proof of the importance attached to this new method of
painting introduced by Hubert, than in the sensation it made in
Italy , where the invention and its publication were invested with
the attributes of romance.
The connection between the two brothers will be best under-
stood by regarding Hubert as the more capable of the two. This
view is supported by the inscription placed on the Ghent altar-
piece by Jan’s own hand (‘Hubertus — major quo nemo repertus’).
The peculiar art of Jan van Eyck can best be studied in Bruges,
where he died in 1440. Two admirable works in the Academy (the
Madonna of Canon van der Paele and the portrait of his wife) reveal
the extraordinary sense of realism possessed by the master. In
keeping with a strong determination towards a more portrait-like
and realistic conception of nature is the endeavour, observable in
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K 29612:[a,1,11], Collectie Stad Antwerpen, Erfgoedbibliotheek Hendrik Conscience
Baedeker, Karl, Belgium and Holland, including the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg: handbook for travellers, K 29612:[a,1,11], Collectie Stad Antwerpen, Erfgoedbibliotheek Hendrik Conscience