The painting on Jan van Eyck’s Virgin and Child with Canon Joris van der Paele
Jan van Eyck is greatly admired for his brilliant work throughout the centuries. He was
known as the father of oil painting. Jan van Eyck is always accurate with his paintings and
accurate as well. He used oil paint which dominated the painting world because it gave the
pieces an attractive glowing shine that could be penetrated by the light. Jan van Eyck’s work was
exceptional because he believed in details. His paintings have special personalities as he
understood the craftsmanship needed and the importance of perfection and visionary work. He
worked on three main paintings that took people by storm. They include the Virgin and Child
with Chancellor Rolin, The Madonna with Canon Van der Paele and the Virgin Child with Saints
and Donors (Van Der Elst, 140).
This thesis will review the Virgin and Child with Canon van der Paele. This oil painting
was created in the 15th century in the year 1436 during the Northern Renaissance thus showing
techniques that artists in the Renaissance period used. The painting shows Canon Van der Paele
kneeling before the Virgin Mary and a representing Jesus. There is also Saint Donatian and Saint
George. This painting is very much alike with the Madonna and Chancellor Rolin. Both these
paintings represent our perception of God and the events that took place on His account, in our
world. He has a small script on his left, and he is short sighted as he holds his glasses. He
experiences the divinity of God through Mary and the Child.
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God’s plan for salvation is represented by Adam and Eve who ate from the forbidden
tree, therefore, representing sin, Isaac and Abraham’s sacrificial event. It further shows the Grace
and goodness of God, and the figures of Samson’s defeat over the lion show us the redemption of
human being’s sin through the act of faith. The baby Jesus is holding a small bouquet of flowers
that Mary gives him, therefore, showing her love for him and the bond that they have through the
humble gift. The Saint Donatian symbolizes the church due to his attire. The Garden of Eden is
also shown by Mary as she is holding a nosegay and Jesus a parrot (Friedländer, 132).
Van Eyck shows a couple of techniques that show his belief and his mastery. He
mastered oil painting by the incorporation of certain features such as the use of detail, light, and
realism. In the use of light, Mary and the baby are placed in a position that illuminates them as
the light comes from the upper section of the painting. The light hitting Saint George’s armor is
reflected giving him a glow that shows the use of indirect light brilliantly. He pushed coloring
and shades of light into perspective that allowed him to use subtle color differences. He uses two
different light sources that promote the images (Graham, 189).
Eyck sets the emotion and mood by the want to induce divine aspects by the figure of the
Canon after looking at Mary and Jesus. The surfaces of the painting show Saint George’s armor
from the cloth, then the wood after that to the clothing. It is impressive and intriguing. His
figures are religiously based, and it makes the viewer’s think deeply and brings the entire scene
to life. Eyck’s achievements in this painting and others as well are quite remarkable. His
painting may have served as an altarpiece at one point. Jan Van Eyck provides certain themes in
his work to acquaint his beliefs.
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This painting shows the characteristics of the artwork in the Renaissance period. His
works are a symbol of Christianity and its salvation aspect. In comparison to the Virgin Child
with Saints and Donors, the painting is based on the Virgin Mary at the center of the painting
holding Jesus. She stands on a beautiful carpet framed by two arched windows. Saint Barbra,
Elizabeth of Hungary and a monk surround her (Harbison, 154).
The two saints are quite conspicuous therefore identifying them easily. Saint Barbra is the
patron of Saint Soldiers; therefore, the sculpture of Mars, the God of War is greatly significant.
Saint Elizabeth gave her life to ministry and prayer, so she is dressed in the religious habit
instead of a crown. The monk is kneeling at Mary’s feet in a prayer position asking for eternal
peace from baby Jesus and Mary as well. Jesus holds out his hand as a sign of blessing to the
monk. Eyck uses classical architecture as a connection with to the Old Testament. It is filled with
Iconography, therefore, combining God’s heaven with the earth. The Old Testament is
represented through Heavenly Jerusalem, and the New Testament is represented by Christ and
the transition between the two.
In conclusion, both the paintings are used as a connection between the Old Testament and
the New Testament through the use of classical architecture and symbols in the paintings. In
both, the color used is detailed and brilliant as it shows the rich color and the composition
separates the divine world of Mary and Jesus from the physical world of Rolin. The paintings are
layers in meaning and dimensions. They both symbolize death, pride, immorality, envy (the
death of Abel by the hand of Cain), and the royal theme of Mary’s divine importance in heaven
and Jerusalem as well (Schmidt, 254).
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Friedländer, Max Jakob. Early Netherlandish Paintings, Volume 1: The van Eycks, Petrus
Christus. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1967.
Graham, Jenny. Inventing Van Eyck: The Remaking of an Artist for the Modern Age. Berg
Harbison, Craig. Jan Van Eyck: The Play of Realism. Reaktion Books, 2011.
Schmidt, Peter. Jan Van Eyck: The Ghent Altarpiece. Ludion Editions NV, 2001.
Van Der Elst, Joseph. The Last Flowering of the Middle Ages. Kessinger, 1944.