Jan van Eyck or Johannes de Eyck (Dutch pronunciation: before c. 1395 – before July 9, 1441) was a Flemish painter active in Bruges and considered one of the best Northern European painters of the 15th century.
There is a common misconception, which dates back to the sixteenth-century Vite of the Tuscan artist and biographer Giorgio Vasari, that Jan van Eyck invented oil painting. Oil painting as a technique for painting wood statues and other objects is much older, and Theophilus (Roger of Helmarshausen?) clearly gives instructions for oil-based painting in his treatise, On Divers Arts, written in 1125. It is however true that the van Eyck brothers were among the earliest Early Netherlandish painters to use it for very detailed panel paintings, and that they achieved new and remarkable effects through the use of glazes, wet-on-wet and other techniques. Thus, because of his early mastery of the technique, he was traditionally known as the "father of oil painting."
Jan van Eyck has often been linked as brother to painter and peer Hubert van Eyck, because both have been thought to originate from the same town, Maaseik in Limburg (Belgium). Another brother, Lambert van Eyck is mentioned in Burgundian court documents, and there is a conjecture that he too was a painter, and that he may have overseen the closing of Jan van Eyck's Bruges workshop. Another significant, and rather younger, painter who worked in Southern France, Barthélemy van Eyck, is presumed to be a relation.
The date of van Eyck's birth is not known. The first extant record of van Eyck is from the court of John of Bavaria at The Hague, where payments were made to Jan van Eyck between 1422 and 1424 as court painter, with the court rank of valet de chambre, and first one and then two assistants. This suggests a date of birth of at the latest 1395 and indeed probably earlier. His apparent age in his probable self-portrait (right) suggests to most scholars an earlier date than 1395. Miniatures in the Turin-Milan Hours, if indeed they are by van Eyck, are likely to be the only surviving works from this period, and most of these were destroyed by fire in 1904, though photographs exist.
Jan Van Eyck's La Madone au Chanoine Van der Paele (1434), a nice example of Oriental carpets in Renaissance painting.Following the death of John of Bavaria, in 1425 van Eyck entered the service of the powerful and influential Valois prince, Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy. Van Eyck resided in Lille for a year and then moved to Bruges, where he lived until his death in 1441. A number of documents published in the twentieth century record his activities in Philip's service. He was sent on several missions on behalf of the Duke, and worked on several projects which likely entailed more than painting. With the exception of two portraits of Isabella of Portugal, which van Eyck painted on Philip's behest as a member of a 1428-9 delegation to seek her hand, the precise nature of these works is obscure (see this copy).
As a painter and "valet de chambre" to the Duke, Jan van Eyck was exceptionally well paid. His annual salary was quite high when he was first engaged, but it doubled twice in the first few years, and was often supplemented by special bonuses. His salary alone makes Jan van Eyck an exceptional figure among early Netherlandish painters, since most of them depended on individual commissions for their livelihoods. An indication that Van Eyck's art and person were held in extraordinarily high regard is a document from 1435 in which the Duke scolded his treasurers for not paying the painter his salary, arguing that Van Eyck would leave and that he would nowhere be able to find his equal in his "art and science." The Duke also served as godfather to one of Van Eyck's children, supported his widow upon the painter's death, and years later helped one of his daughters with the funds required to enter a convent.