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

St Barbara

Grisaille on wood, 31 x 18 cm
Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp

Jan van Eyck is generally viewed as the leading artistic figure of the 15th century Netherlands. He was interested in Antiquity, had good geographical knowledge, was well-versed in literature and possessed great technical ingenuity.

Saint Barbara is surprising because of its graphical qualities and its unusual technique, and the fact that it is not an ordinary painting. Numerous experts have tried to determine whether it is in fact an unfinished painting, a grisaille, or a finished drawing. The drawing is executed on a smooth, yellow-brown tinted ground with a stylus, and is finished off with a fine paintbrush. The work has a marbled frame bearing an inscription which tells us the name of the artist and the date of execution, namely 1437. Van Eyck depicts Saint Barbara with her prayer-book and palm, seated before a late-gothic tower which is in the process of construction.