Portraiture: Van Eyck, Van Der Weyden Research Paper

Pages: 10 (2910 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 7  ·  Level: College Freshman  ·  Topic: Art  (general)

Portraiture: Van Eyck, Van Der Weyden and Fouquet

Jan van Eyck, (1390-1441), has been touted as the pioneer of Dutch fine painting and the preeminent orchestrator of the oil painting technique; although some argue that he did not invent it but rather tested the possibilities of not allowing one color to totally dry prior to another application. One of van Eyck's most notable works is the work completed at the St. Bavo's Cathedral in Ghent (Pacht, 2000).

Rogier van der Weyden or Rogier de le Pasture (1399 or 1400-1464), another 15th century world-renowned artist, reportedly surpassed van Eyck in popularity even though they both were considered exceptional Flemish Dutch artisans. Van der Weyden has been regarded as the "most influential Northern painter of the 15th century (Campbell, 2004). One of van der Weyden's most notable works is The "Magdalen Reading" and has been described by Campbell as "one of the great masterpieces of fifteenth century art and among Rogier's most important early works" (Campbell, 1988).

Jean Fouquet (1420-1481) was a highly regarded 15th century French painter, has been described as a preeminent artist with manuscript illumination and panel painting. He was also described as the inventor of miniature portrait (Synder, 1985). One of the artists' most prolific works was "Melum diptych."

Although all three famous artists' works have been recognized for their individual qualities and stylistic nature, all three have made a significant impact on contemporary art in the area of portraiture. Comparing some of the most significant work of van Eyck, van der Weyden and Fouquet will offer insight as to the importance of portraiture in their time and its impact on modern day art.

Jan van Eyck

Panofsky, in his book, "Early Netherlandish Painting" describes van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait as iconic in the interpretation and suggested yet disguised symbolism. The work is said to have created a great deal of interest amongst scholars from the 15th century to modern day. The double portrait and the optical qualities displayed were described by Panofsky as "a concord of form, space, light and color which even he was never to surpass" (Panofsky, 1971, p. 203). However, not all of van Eyck's work was described so prolifically. van Eyck's other interior scenes, "The Annuciation of the Ghent Altarpiece (1426-1432), the Dresden Triptych (1431-1432), the Ince Hall Madonna (1433), the Rolin Madonna (1433-1444), the Madonna of Canon van der Paele (1436), and the Lucca Madonna (1437)" (Panofsky 1971; Baldass, 1952) in chronological order purported by Panofsky and also by Baldass, are all described as never reaching the heights or depths of the Arnolfini Portrait.

The aforementioned additional works reportedly represent the two-point perspective that is innate to van Eyck's heritage as learned from the Boucicaut Master (Panofsky, 1971). Panofsky goes on to describe van Eyck's portrait style as more along the lines of a "system of two vanishing areas centered at the two foci of an ellipse" and because of that his perspective is referred to as elliptical (p. 166). The four vanishing points described in the Arnolfini Portrait are described as the ceiling or upper orthogonals convergence in the area of the upper edge of the mirror with the lower or floor orthogonals converging in the area of the couple's hands.

The propensity toward forward movement within the piece provides heightened presence with subtle comparisons to the figure "Madonna in the Church," with a desired need to cause subject domination, somehow seeming to dwarf the surroundings. Although the Arnolfini Portrait provides the optics most closely associated with the wide angle lens vs. The fish eye lens so frequently used today, the picture represents characters with tremendous depth and that his use of the convex mirror, earmarked in this piece, may have precipitated the development of a consistent mathematical theory of application and perspective not referred to as the elliptical perspective (Carleton, 1982).

Ward, in his article, "Disguised Symbolism as Enactive Symbolism in van Eyck's Paintings" speaks to the view that concealed or disguised symbolism being a widely accepted fundamental feature of Netherlandish paintings in the 15th century for a significant amount of time subsequent to Panofsky's work, "Early Netherlandish Painting" (Panofsky, 1953). However, by 1988 there is said to have been scholarly disrepute as Barbara Lane would write in her work, "Sacred vs. Profane in Early Netherlandish Painting," "most writers would probably agree that early Netherlandish painters made no effort to 'disguise' this symbolism, which was perfectly apparent to educated viewers (p. 154). This was evidence of the growing rejection of the thesis posited by Panofsky as many argued the information purported was without a comprehensive analysis of the value or implication with neither Panofsky nor his supporters offered.

Ward attempts to provide greater analysis of the functionality of symbolic disguise that accounts for the complexities that van Eyck's work has come to be known for. Ward argues that the visual effect and means represented by symbols were designed by the artist to be as indistinguishable and inseparable as possible and that these disguising symbols were intentional and part of a deliberate strategy to create a spiritually revelatory experience (Ward, 1994). Panofsky's language is regarded as conflictual and suggested the disparity credited by the symbols was resolved with replacement by traditional symbols with analogous objects more suitable to the context depicted; with the purpose of the disguise being "reconciliation of symbolic meaning and naturalism, not intentional concealment from the viewer" (Ward, p. 11).

Scholars have continued to challenge these notions with a representative group arguing the possibility of disguised symbolism being questioned in totality; others arguing the symbols were relevant to 15th century viewers but not to modern day viewers, and even other scholars arguing that most 15th century viewers lacked acquaintance with church doctrine subtleties and as such they were unfamiliar with the subtleties as well (Hitchcock 1976). The complexities of van Eyck's work as been regarded as the "inventions of modern scholars out of tune with fifteenth century Netherlandish experience (Ward, 1994).

Rogier van der Weyden

Acres, in his article "Rogier van der Weyden's Painted Texts" posits that the artist left a variety of texts, many of which spoke specifically to the meaning of his artistic work. Although not much has been written about the artist nor his career documented as explicitly as that of van Eyck or Fouquet respectively, Acres maintains that the texts have not gone without notice (Acres, 2000, p. 75). The texts Acres refers to are found in the artists' paintings and refer to content not associated with text captured in a picture. Van der Weyden's painted texts have often been regarded as utterances, annotations, and/or attributes; however, Acres argues that the artist manipulated the texts in unique, tendentious and supple ways; "phenomenally pliable, responsive constituents of a realm in which vision lays first claim to truth" (p. 76).

Van der Weyden has been regarded as an inventor; however, the scope of his inventions are described as narrowly drawn around matters of expression, drama and composition. He has been closely associated with his presumed teacher Robert Campin, a twentieth century reconstructionist, and van Eyck mastery of interpretation and style (Dhanens, 1973). The scholarly literature, according to Acres, has been replete with "persistent observations" that compared to van Eyck's work, van der Weyden is conservative; against van Eyck's pictorial depth van der Weyden is plainer; and against van Eyck's intellectual rigor, van der Weyden is an emotional painter (Acres, 2000).

The contrast between his teacher and the much written about work of van Eyck has significantly shaped how Rogier's paintings are interpreted and are frequently described as foregoing the symbolism so notable in van Eyck's work. Acres maintains that most intellectual discourse on early Netherlandish art has relations of image and text at their base. Those relations, although has always been the case, become particularly visible in the recent ferverent discourse of interdisciplinary inquiry into matters related to image and text. From the numerous approaches that have emerged, Acres purports that there are two kinds of relationships that can provisionally be isolated as the most foundational to fifteenth century painting interpretations; those that exist between text and image to which may somehow refer to as document coding, symbolism, illustration, embodiment, fulfillment of a contract or documented cultural conditions; and those between text and image that refer somehow to critical evaluation, interpretation and other kinds of analysis (Acres, 2000). Van Eyck's work, the author maintains, has relied heavily on the first kind of relationship; moreover, van der Weyden's has never been privy to this kind of interpretation or comparison.

There are a number of van der Weyden's works that inscribe legible Bible verse directly on the paintings surface; for example, the renowned "Altarpiece of the Last Judgment," painted approximately 1450. In this particular portrait, letters appear in two states on the altarpiece's interior' in inscriptions woven on the borders of several figures garments and as autonomous words suspended in space -- "Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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