13. Van Eyck, Saint Francis

Jan van Eyck is also a painter of city-views and landscapes. You have already seen that quite extensively. The main figure of this mini painting, Saint Francis, is receiving the stigmata. These are the same wounds that Christ received on the cross. A dozing Franciscan brother is sitting next to the Saint. You could not portray people any more lifelike than this. The rocks are extraordinarily detailed, with fossils visible. A geologist could perfectly analyse them if they wanted. Everything is important for Jan van Eyck: from lichens to mountain chains, from blades of grass to thunderclouds. Everything begins by perceiving the minutiae. And, everything ends with the correct reproduction of what you have seen. In this he is without equal. Look at the background, with the high horizon: a river, a city and behind that a snowy mountainous landscape. Possibly Van Eyck travelled through the Alps and Pyrenees on his assignments for Philip the Good. He uses the so-called atmospheric perspective: what is close up is sharply defined, and what is further away is blurred. Colours correspond with this: brown in the front, green in the middle and blue-grey for the far horizon. All of this creates a depth effect: the rocks pull our gaze into the distance. This Saint Francis is painted on parchment, thanks to which the paint has been exceptionally well preserved. Parchment makes one think of miniatures.... Perhaps Jan van Eyck also practices this discipline. Van Eyck's version is the oldest representation of this theme outside of Italy. He has clear connections with that country. Next to his version hangs yet another Francis, by Fra Angelico, an Italian contemporary of Van Eyck. It could not be more radically different.

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Museum of Fine Arts Ghent

On February 1st 2020, the Museum of Fine Arts Ghent opened the largest Jan van Eyck exhibition in history: 'Van Eyck. An Optical Revolution'. Half of his oeuvre travelled to Ghent, where it was brought together with work from Van Eyck's studio, copies of paintings that have since disappeared and more than 100 masterpieces from the late Middle Ages. Due to the precautions taken against the further spread of COVID-19, the internationally acclaimed exhibition is unfortunately currently closed. Therefore, we would like to make the audio guide belonging to the exhibition available online. In this way the listener can still get a little closer to the work of the master. Have fun listening!


  • Fernand Scribedreef 1
  • Gent Belgium
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  • www.mskgent.be