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Belgium

16 March 2020

Masters of Painting — Jan van Eyck

Belgium: Masters of Painting – Jan van Eyck, 16 March 2020. Images from bpost.

Technical Specifications:

Copyright stamps a – b – d – e – leaf: © www.lukasweb.be – Art in Flanders vzw / Copyright stamp c: Brukenthal National Museum – Sibiu, Romania
Leaf: The integral triptych ‘Lamb of God’ – Special cap shape of the leaf in the form of the triptych
Layout: Kris Maes
Size of the stamps: a: 28mm x 40mm bc: 25mm x 38mm de: 30mm x 42mm
Size of the tray: 193mm x 155mm
Leaflet layout: 5 stamps
Value: 2 NON PRIOR destination Belgium
For standardized shipments up to 100g
Paper: polyvalent white, self-adhesive layer applied to backing paper
Perforation: 13
Printing Process: Offset
Issue date: March 16, 2020
Repro and printing: bpost Philately & Stamps Printing

Theme: After Rubens and Bruegel De Oude, Van Eyck follows. This year, the fully restored Ghent Altarpiece by Van Eyck returns to Ghent’s Saint Bavo Cathedral. This painter’s paintings are a high point in art history. The Ghent Altarpiece is central to this issue, along with several other very recognizable works by this painter.

Stamps: a. Detail Lamb of God – God on the throne b. Portrait Margareta van Eyck c. Man with the blue crown d. Madonna at the fountain e. Madonna with Canon Joris van der Paele

Jan van Eyck (born before 1390, died 9 July 1441) was a painter from the County of Loon (present day Belgium) active in Bruges. He is one of the early innovators of what became known as Early Netherlandish painting, and one of the most significant representatives of Early Northern Renaissance art. The surviving records of his early life indicate that he was born around 1380–1390, most likely in Maaseik (then Maaseyck, hence his name), in present-day Belgium. He took employment in the Hague around 1422, when he was already a master painter with workshop assistants, and employed as painter and valet de chambre with John III the Pitiless, ruler of Holland and Hainaut. He was then employed in Lille as court painter to Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy after John’s death in 1425, until he moved to Bruges in 1429 where he lived until his death. He was highly regarded by Philip and undertook a number of diplomatic visits abroad, including to Lisbon in 1428 to explore the possibility of a marriage contract between the duke and Isabella of Portugal.

About 20 surviving paintings are confidently attributed to him, as well as the Ghent Altarpiece and the illuminated miniatures of the Turin-Milan Hours, all dated between 1432 and 1439. Ten are dated and signed with a variation of his motto ALS ICH KAN (As I (Eyck) can), a pun on his name, which he typically painted in Greek characters.

Van Eyck painted both secular and religious subject matter, including altarpieces, single-panel religious figures and commissioned portraits. His work includes single panels, diptychs, triptychs, and polyptych panels. He was well paid by Philip, who sought that the painter was secure financially and had artistic freedom so that he could paint “whenever he pleased”. Van Eyck’s work comes from the International Gothic style, but he soon eclipsed it, in part through a greater emphasis on naturalism and realism. He achieved a new level of virtuosity through his developments in the use of oil paint. He was highly influential, and his techniques and style were adopted and refined by the Early Netherlandish painters.

The Ghent Altarpiece Open

The Ghent Altarpiece (or the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, Het Lam Gods) is a large and complex 15th-century polyptych altarpiece in St Bavo’s Cathedral, Ghent, Belgium. It was begun c. the mid-1420s and completed before 1432, and is attributed to the Early Flemish painters and brothers Hubert and Jan van Eyck. The altarpiece is considered a masterpiece of European art and one of the world’s treasures.

The panels are organised in two vertical registers, each with double sets of foldable wings containing inner and outer panel paintings. The upper register of the inner panels represent the heavenly redemption, and include the central Deësis of Christ the King (or perhaps God the Father), the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist. They are flanked in the next panels by angels playing music and, on the far outermost panels, the figures of Adam and Eve. The four lower-register panels are divided into two pairs; sculptural grisaille paintings of St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist, and on the two outer panels, donor portraits of Joost Vijdt and his wife Lysbette Borluut. The central panel of the lower register shows a gathering of saints, sinners, clergy and soldiers attendant at an adoration of the Lamb of God. There are several groupings of figures, overseen by the dove of the Holy Spirit. The altarpiece is one of the most renowned and important artworks in European history.

The Ghent Altarpiece, closed view, back panels,

Art historians generally agree that the overall structure was designed by Hubert during or before the mid 1420s, probably before 1422, and that the panels were painted by his younger brother Jan. Yet, while generations of art historians have attempted to attribute specific passage to either brother, no convincing separation has been established,[1] it may be that Jan finished panels begun by Hubert.

The altarpiece was commissioned by the merchant and Ghent mayor Jodocus Vijd and his wife Lysbette as part of a larger project for the Saint Bavo Cathedral chapel. The altarpiece’s installation was officially celebrated on 6 May 1432. It was much later moved for security reasons to the principal cathedral chapel, where it remains.

The central figure of the Ghent Altarpiece, usually referred to as “The Almighty”.

Indebted to the International Gothic as well as Byzantine and Romanic traditions, the altarpiece represented a significant advancement in western art, in which the idealisation of the medieval tradition gives way to an exacting observation of nature and human representation. A now lost inscription on the frame stated that Hubert van Eyck maior quo nemo repertus (greater than anyone) started the altarpiece, but that Jan van Eyck—calling himself arte secundus (second best in the art)—completed it in 1432. The altarpiece is in its original location, while its original, very ornate, carved outer frame and surround, presumably harmonizing with the painted tracery, was destroyed during the Reformation; it may have included clockwork mechanisms for moving the shutters and even playing music.


Portrait of Margaret van Eyck (or Margaret, the Artist’s Wife) is a 1439 oil on wood painting by the Early Netherlandish master Jan van Eyck. It is one of the two latest of his surviving paintings, and one of the earliest European artworks to depict a painter’s spouse. Completed when she was around 34, it was hung until the early 18th century in the Bruges chapel of the Guild of painters. The work is thought to be a pendant or diptych panel for either a now lost self-portrait known from records until 1769, or of Jan van Eyck’s likely self-portrait now in the National Gallery in London.

The reason for its inception is unknown; but that it was created for private rather than public viewing can be inferred from the sitter’s unidealised representation and her direct but plaintive gaze towards the viewer, which creates an intimate and informal atmosphere. The painting was probably created to mark an occasion; maybe to commemorate the couple’s anniversary, or her birthday, or as a gift to her.

Van Eyck died within two years of this work. He inscribed plates on the top and ends of the frame in Greek lettering with the words, My husband Johannes completed me in the year 1439 on 17 June, at the age of 33. As I can. “As I can” (ALS ICH KAN) was something of a personal motto and motif for van Eyck, as well as a pun on his surname. It can be found inscribed on several of his religious paintings, though on only two portraits.

Portrait of Margaret van Eyck, oil on panel. 1439, at the Groeningemuseum — a municipal museum in Bruges, Belgium, built on the site of the medieval Eekhout Abbey.

Margaret is shown in three-quarter view, that is her body almost directly facing the viewer but not quite. She is set against a flat black and featureless background, wearing an elegant red woolen gown with grey fur lining (in the medieval period fur often represented female sexuality), probably from squirrel, in the neck and cuffs. Her horned wimple is decorated with fine lace. Her left eye shows evidence of a squint, a feature unusually evident in northern Europeans of the era. The painter has taken a number of liberties with representation to accentuate the features of his wife. Her head is out of proportion to her body, and her forehead unusually and fashionably high, a device which allows the artist to concentrate on the facial features of his wife. In addition, the geometric pattern formed by her head-dress, arms and the V of her neck-line allows her face to dominate the image.

The couple likely married around 1432–33, soon after his move to Bruges – she is unmentioned before he relocated while the first of their two children was born in 1434. Very little is known of Margaret, even her maiden name is lost – contemporary records refer to her mainly as Damoiselle Marguierite. She is thought to have been of aristocratic birth, though from the lower nobility, evidenced from her clothes in this portrait which are fashion but not of the sumptuousness worn by the bride in van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait. The fabrics and colours worn by people of the 15th century were informally regulated by their social position; for example black, an expensive dye, could only be worn by the upper reaches of society. As the widow of a renowned painter, Margaret was afforded a modest pension by the city of Bruges after Jan’s death. It is recorded that at least some of this income was invested in lottery.


Portrait of a Man with a Blue Chaperon (or Portrait of a Man with a Blue Hood, earlier Portrait of a Jeweller or Man with a Ring) is a very small (22.5 cm x 16.6 cm with frame) oil on panel portrait of an unidentified man attributed to the Early Netherlandish painter Jan van Eyck.

The painting was commissioned and completed sometime around 1430. It contains a number of elements typical of van Eyck’s secular portraits, including a slightly oversized head, a dark and flat background, forensic attention to the small details and textures of the man’s face, and illusionistic devices. Artists did not give titles to their works during the Northern Renaissance period, and as with any portrait of a sitter whose identity is lost, the painting has attracted generic titles over the years. It had long been thought that the ring held in the man’s right hand was meant as an indication of his profession as a jeweller or goldsmith and so the painting was long titled on variants of such. More recently the ring is interpreted as an emblem of betrothal and the titles given by various art historians and publications since are usually more descriptive of the colour or form of the headdress.

The painting was attributed to van Eyck in the late 19th century, but this was repeatedly challenged by some art historians until a 1991 cleaning when infra-red photography revealed an underdrawing and methods of handling of oil that were unmistakably van Eyck’s.

Man in a Blue Cap, circa 1430, at the Brukenthal National Museum in Sibiu, Transylvania, Romania.

The man is shown in three-quarters view with his face dramatically lit by light falling from the left. This device provides striking contrasts of light and shadow and draws the viewer’s attention on to the man’s face. He has brown eyes, and while his expression is impassive there are traces of melancholy, especially in the down-turn of his mouth. He is obviously a member of the nobility, being very well dressed in a fur lined brown jacket over a black undervest. His headdress, a chaperon, contains two wings which hang down over the man’s shoulders and extend to his chest. The edges of the cloth are given a shredded look at the edges of their trains. The hood is brightly and dramatically coloured using a pigment, ultramarine, extracted from the expensive lapis lazuli gemstone to give it its bright, intense hue. The headdress is of a similar but less extravagant type to that seen in van Eyck’s c. 1433 Portrait of a Man, and worn by a figure in the distance in his c. 1435 Madonna of Chancellor Rolin. This type of headdress was to go out of fashion by the mid 1430s, conveniently and definitively dating the painting as having been completed before then.

It is not known if the ring held in his right hand is intended to indicate that the sitter was a jeweller or goldsmith – as had been previously thought until Erwin Panofsky’s analysis in the mid century – or that the painting was commissioned as a betrothal portrait to mark a proposal of marriage intended for an unseen bride and her family. This latter theory is supported by the panel’s near miniature dimensions; such a small size would have been easily packed and transported to the intended’s family.

He has a light beard of one or two days’ growth, a common feature in other of van Eyck’s male portraits, where the sitter is often either unshaven, or according to Lorne Campbell of the National Gallery, London, “rather inefficiently shaved”. Art historian Till-Holger Borchert praises van Eyck’s recording of the man’s stubble “with painstaking precision; nothing is idealised.” Yet it is interesting to consider such an idealised portrait in the context of a betrothal portrait, where the intended bride’s family most likely had not met the man and are dependent solely on the portrait for an indication of his means and character. Carol Richardson observes that the unidealised representation would have been a significant novelty and shock at the time, and that, complete with the evident skill of the painter, the verisimilitude would have given the sitter weight and creditability.

The panel contains two illusionistic passages; the ring and his right hand appear to project out of the painting, while the minutely described fingers of his left hand seem to lie on a parapet positioned on what would have been the lower border of the original—but now lost—frame.


The Madonna at the Fountain is a 1439 oil on panel painting by the early Netherlandish artist Jan van Eyck. It belongs to van Eyck’s late work, and is his last signed and dated painting. It retains its original frame, which bears the inscription; “ALS IXH CAN”, “JOHES DE EYCK ME FECIT + [COM]PLEVIT ANNO 1439

At 19 x 12 cm. the painting is only a little larger than a postcard. It is set in a hortus conclusus, with the fountain representing the fountain of life. The Madonna is depicted dressed in blue, her figure framed by a richly embroidered cloth of honor supported by two angels. The Christ Child holds prayer beads in his left hand, suggesting, along with the rose bush behind the figures, the rosary. In the mid to late 15th century the rosary was becoming increasingly popular in northern Europe.

This depiction is unusual in that the Madonna wears a blue robe; in the Dresden Triptych, Lucca Madonna, and the Madonna of Chancellor Rolin, van Eyck had depicted her dressed in red. The use of red for the clothes of sacred figures was characteristic of 15th century Netherlandish painting, as cochineal was among the most expensive pigments available for dying textiles. In contrast to this, Italian painters used ultramarine for the robes of Madonnas. Thus van Eyck’s choice of blue can be seen as evidence of Italian influence.

Madonna at the Fountain, 1439, at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp, Belgium.

With the Madonna in the Church in Berlin, this is generally thought to have been one of van Eyck’s two paintings of the Madonna and Child from the final years before his death in about 1441. Both show a standing Virgin, in contrast to his earlier treatments of the subject, and the great majority of other painted Virgins. Models for standing Virgins existed in the icons of Byzantine art, and both paintings also represent modified version of the eleusa type, sometimes called the Virgin of Tenderness in English, where the Virgin and Child touch cheeks, and he reaches out a hand. The Madonna in the Church wears a blue cloak over a red dress.

During the early 14th and 15th century a large number of these works were imported into the North, and were widely copied by the first generation of Netherlandish artists, among others. The iconography of both the late Byzantine, typified by the unknown artist responsible for the Cambrai Madonna, and 14th century successors such as Giotto favoured showing the Madonna in a monumental scale, and it is accepted by art historians that van Eyck absorbed these influences, though when and through which works is disputed. It is believed that he had direct exposure to them during his visit to Italy, which occurred either in 1426 or 1428. Van Eyck’s two panels carried forward the habit of reproduction and were themselves frequently copied by commercial workshops throughout the 15th century.

It is possible that the Byzantine flavour to these images was also connected with contemporary attempts through diplomacy to achieve reconciliation with the Greek Orthodox Church, in which van Eyck’s patron Philip the Good took a keen interest. Van Eyck’s Portrait of Cardinal Niccolò Albergati (c. 1431) had depicted one of the diplomats most involved with these efforts, acting for the Papacy.

The image was much copied, with a very high-quality copy assigned to van Eyck’s workshop just after the original. There is a workshop drawing of the central figures by Gerard David of about 1500–1510 in the Kupferstichkabinett Berlin, presumably used for his version of the figures, now with four angels and a panoramic landscape background of Bruges, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. This was planned as a precise copy, but the new elements were added while the work was in progress, as modern scientific analysis of the underdrawing shows.


The Virgin and Child with Canon van der Paele is a large oil-on-oak panel painting completed around 1434–36 by the Early Netherlandish painter Jan van Eyck. It shows the painting’s donor, Joris van der Paele, within an apparition of saints. The Virgin Mary is enthroned at the centre of the semicircular space, which most likely represents a church interior, with the Christ Child on her lap. St. Donatian stands to her right, Saint George — the donor’s name saint — to her left. The panel was commissioned by van der Paele as an altarpiece. He was then a wealthy clergyman from Bruges, but elderly and gravely ill, and intended the work as his memorial.

The saints are identifiable from Latin inscriptions lining the borders of the imitation bronze frame, which is original. Van der Paele is identifiable from historical records. He is dressed in the finery of a medieval canon, including white surplice, as he piously reads from a book of hours. He is presented to Mary by Saint George, his name saint, who holds aloft his metal helmet in respect. Saint Donatian, dressed in brightly coloured vestments, stands to the left. The panel is noted for the finery of clothing, including exquisite representations of furs, silks and brocades, and the elaborate and detailed religious iconography. The Virgin’s throne is decorated with carved representations of Adam and Eve, prefigurations of the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus, and scenes from the Old Testament. The painting is lined with a series of inscriptions which comment on the saints, and include van Eyck’s signature.

The van der Paele panel is widely considered one of van Eyck’s most fully realised and ambitious works, and has been described as a “masterpiece of masterpieces”.

Madonna with Canon Joris van der Paele, oil on panel, at Groeninge Museum, Bruges, Belgium.

The Virgin and Child is set in a rounded church with side ambulatories, with Mary occupying the area where the altarpiece would usually be positioned. The panel has an overall sculptural look; the throne, windows, arches and hanging canvases borrow from the conventions of Romanesque architecture. After the “Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” panel of the Ghent Altarpiece, it is van Eyck’s second largest extant painting, and the only one in a horizontal framing. The Virgin and Child is characterised by its innovative use of illusionism and complex spatial composition. It is in its original oak frame, which contains several Latin inscriptions, including van Eyck’s signature, the date of completion, the donor’s name, and texts related to St. George and St. Donatian. The upper border contains phrases from the Book of Wisdom, comparing Mary to an “unspotted mirror”.

The figures, the minutely detailed clothes, and the architecture of the room and windows are depicted with a high degree of realism. Van Eyck’s mastery at handling oil can be seen in the differing breadths of brush strokes. The precision of the detail achieved is especially noticeable in the rendering of threads of St. Donatian’s blue and golden embroidered cope and mitre, in the weave of the oriental carpet, and in the stubble and veins on van der Paele’s aging face.

Detail of the Madonna and Child. Mary holds a flower between her fingers, while a parrot-like bird, perhaps a rose-ringed parakeet, rests on her lap.

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