EYCK, Jan van
(b. before 1395, Maaseik, d. before 1441, Bruges)

Portrait of Margareta van Eyck

1439
Oil on wood, 32,6 x 25,8 cm
Groeninge Museum, Bruges

The small, intimate picture is the portrait of Margareta van Eyck, the painter's wife. The portrait is transparently shadowed and its white hood subtly modelled. Until the French Revolution, the painters' corporation kept this work in its chambers, treating it almost like a holy relic. How it came to be there remains unknown, especially since its creator, a court painter, had never been a guildsman. Completed in 1439, just two years before his death, Van Eyck may have intended the work for his home. Perhaps he gave it to his wife as a birthday present, as the panel incorporates the mock-chiselled 'speaking' inscription - my husband Johannes finished painting me in the year 1439 on 15 June / my age was thirty-three. This is followed by the artist's own motto in Greek characters, als ikh kan (to the best of my ability), probably an anagram of his name based on the traditional closing formula used by manuscript copyists. Van Eyck was, after all, a copier of reality.