Jan van Eyck was a master in style and symbolism, establishing a firm superiority in glaze technique and delicately and elaborately applying subtle, yet powerful religious references to what at first glance may seem simple portraits.
Van Eyck's drawing, Saint Barbara, completed in 1437, is an example of the artist's use of fictional exotic or Romanesque style structures, suggestive of those from the Old Testament. (p.99 textbook) Other symbolism includes the walled city that resembles a ziggurat, and on the church, the three windows on the second level, feature the Trinity, the symbolism of their octagonal structure, and baptism.
Use of religious symbolism can be traced in other Van Eyck works. Madonna in the Church, a panel dating to around 1437-38, uses light to represent Mary's purity and purpose. "She is the brightness of eternal light and the unspotted mirror of God's majesty." This was a passage from the Book of Wisdom and can be found inscribed on Mary's red dress. (p. 100) Additionally, due to the unusual size of Madonna in her setting, Van Eyck has represented Mary as the church, not simply in the church.
Since Madonna and the Christ child in an "ecclesiastical or domestic setting" was a favorite theme of Van Eyck, it is possible to note a trend in his work. (p.102 textbook) Madonna and Child with Saints Michael and Catherine, a 1437 panel, depicts Mary once again as the church, but also as the Throne of Christ, the altar of the church, and the seat of the Holy Ghost. Mary is seen on multiple levels of the church.
Technically, Van Eyck was ingenious in his use of glazing. He would apply "several coats of glazes with pigments in linseed oil, one over the other, and his final coats of varnish" allowing him "to build up an enamel like surface that had the depth and translucency of precious gems." (p.100 textbook) In Madonna in the Church, Van Eyck uses small and intricate details as well as his color and light techniques to blend form and...
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