Van Eyck, the name of three painters, two brothers and a sister, regarded as the founders of the Flemish school, probably the children of Josse van Eyck, a painter, and born at Eyck (now Alden Eyck), a village in the bishopric of Liege, near Maaseyck, on the Maas. I.
Hobert van, born in 1366, died in Ghent, Sept. 18, 1420. After having resided for some time in Bruges, he removed with his brother to Ghent, where he was employed with him upon an altarpiece for the church of St. Bavon. He died before its completion, and was buried in that church.
II. Jan van (often called Jan van Brugge), born about 1390, died in Bruges in 1440 or 1441. Much difference of opinion has prevailed in regard to the precise date of his birth, and as to which of the two brothers was the greater painter; but it would seem to be sufficiently well established that Jan was much younger than Hubert, and was instructed by him. Their most celebrated work was the altarpiece in the church of St. Bavon. It was about 14 ft. wide and 12 ft. high, and contained 12 pictures, painted upon folding doors or screens, representing the adoration of the mystical lamb, other pictures being painted upon the reverse of some of the doors. When the French obtained possession of Belgium, Napoleon caused the doors to be carried to Paris, whence they were removed in 1815. The four central divisions were restored to Ghent, and are now in the church of St. Bavon; the six most important of the doors were taken to Berlin, and form one of the finest ornaments of the royal museum; and two of the doors are in the museum at Brussels. A fine copy of the whole altarpiece was made by Michael Coxcie for Philip II. of Spain, part of which is in the Berlin museum, part in the Pinakothek at Munich, and part in the church of St. Bavon at Ghent. The brothers made such great improvements in the art of oil painting that its invention has been often, though erroneously, ascribed to them.
The mixture of oils and gums which they used as the vehicle for their pigments was so excellent that the colors of their great work still retain a wonderful freshness. They discarded the artificial style of their predecessors, and endeavored to reproduce the outlines and hues of nature. Although Jan adhered in his early efforts to the flat gold background which had before been customary, he afterward adopted a more natural grouping for his figures and natural scenes for a background. The example of the brothers exerted a great influence upon the painters of Germany, Italy, and Spain, and contributed to the emancipation of art from conventional traditions. Jan was the court painter of Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy, and in 1428, while the painting of the altarpiece was in progress, accompanied the embassy which was sent by him to Lisbon to sue for the hand of the daughter of King John I. of Portugal. After the completion of the altarpiece in 1432, he returned to Bruges, and little is known of his subsequent life.
III. Margaret van, died about 1430. She remained unmarried in order that she might devote herself to painting in connection with her brothers. There is in London a fine picture by her, in three parts, of the Madonna and child.- SeeWaagen, Ueber Hubert und Jan van Eyck (Breslau, 1822), and "Early Flemish Painters,'1; by Crowe and Cavalcaselle (London, 1856).