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Jan van Eyck (c. 1390 Maaseyck near Maastricht – 1441 Bruges), Madonna and Child at the Fountain (detail). 19 x 12 cm, incl. original frame: 24,8 x 18,1 cm. Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp KMSKA © Lukas - Art in Flanders VZW, Photo: Dominique Provost.

VIENNA.- The exhibition presents three of the circa twenty extant works by Jan van Eyck, offering a glimpse of the art produced during the reign of Duke Philip the Good, when the Burgundian Low Countries witnessed a unique flowering of courtly and urban civilisation. 

Jan van Eyck (c.1390-1441), the favourite court painter of Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy (1396-1467), is celebrated for his virtuosity in the use of oil paint and his skill in combining naturalism and realism with brilliant colours. Already regarded as an epoch-making artist by his contemporaries, he was soon renowned throughout Europe as the founder of Netherlandish painting. 

Jan van Eyck was one of the first artists north of the Alps to sign and date his works. His use of a motto is remarkable. In the early fifteenth century, it was highly unusual for a painter – then still regarded as a mere craftsman – to have his own device, something reserved for the dukes of Burgundy and the nobility. Jan van Eyck chose AΛΣ · IXH · XAN as his motto and inscribed it in pseudo-Greek letters; it is, however, in Dutch and means “as I can” or “as best I can” as in “as best I can, not as I would”, which is presumably some form of pretend-modesty. 

Jan van Eyck painted his Madonna at the Fountain in 1439, two years before his death. His virtuoso handling, the brilliance of his colours in the newly-perfected medium of oil painting, and his subtle brushstrokes turn this devotional picture into a perfect masterpiece. 

This exceptional loan from the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp engendered this exhibition, in which the two panels by Jan van Eyck are juxtaposed with the highlights of the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna’s collection of Early Netherlandish painting. 

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Jan van Eyck (c. 1390 Maaseyck near Maastricht – 1441 Bruges), Madonna and Child at the Fountain.The painter signed his work on the bottom ledge of the original frame with his motto ALS ICH CAN written in pseudo-Greek letters; below it is the inscription „JOHES DE EYCK ME FECIT + [com]PLEVIT ANO 1439“. 19 x 12 cm, incl. original frame: 24,8 x 18,1 cm, Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp KMSKA © Lukas - Art in Flanders VZW, Photo: Dominique Provost

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Jan van Eyck (c. 1390 Maaseyck near Maastricht – 1441 Bruges), Madonna and Child at the Fountain, The painter signed his work on the bottom ledge of the original frame with his motto ALS ICH CAN written in pseudo-Greek letters; below it is the inscription „JOHES DE EYCK ME FECIT + [com]PLEVIT ANO 1439“. 19 x 12 cm, incl. original frame: 24,8 x 18,1 cm, Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp KMSKA © Lukas - Art in Flanders VZW, Photo: Dominique Provost

Also on show is the Chasuble from the vestments of the Order of the Golden Fleece, the influential order of chivalry founded by Philip the Good in 1430. Normally displayed in the Imperial Treasury, it represents the exquisite textile arts that played such a seminal role in the legendary splendour of the court of the dukes of Burgundy. This uniquely sumptuous liturgical vestment is couched and embroidery all over in gold and coloured silk threads, making it back then many times more expensive than paintings.

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The chasuble from the vestments of the Order of the Golden Fleece (front), circa 1430/40, 149,5 cm x 135,5 cm, Imperial Treasury © KHM-Museumsverband

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The chasuble from the vestments of the Order of the Golden Fleece (back), circa 1430/40, 149,5 cm x 135,5 cm, Imperial Treasury © KHM-Museumsverband.

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Jan van Eyck (c. 1390 Maaseyck near Maastricht – 1441 Bruges), The Goldsmith Jan de Leeuw (1401 – after 1456), inscription on the original frame: IAN DE (image of a lion) OP SANT ORSELEN DACH/DAT CLAER EERST MET OGHEN SACH. 1401 / GHECONTERFEIT NV HEEFT MIA IAN/VAN EYCK WEL BLIICT WANNEERT BEGA(N) 1436 + 1436 dated © KHM-Museumsverband.

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Jan van Eyck (c. 1390 Maaseyck near Maastricht – 1441 Bruges), Portrait of a Scholar, formerly identified as Cardinal Albergati, circa 1435 © KHM-Museumsverband