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Jan Van Eyck - The Virgin and Child with Chancellor Rolin

Updated on July 23, 2014

Van Eyck was commissioned to paint “The Virgin & Child with Chancellor Rolin” (also known as “The Madonna with Chancellor Rolin”) by the Chancellor himself. Nicolas Rolin was Chancellor of the Duchy of Burgundy for his parish at Notre-Dame-du-Chastel in Autun. It’s an oil on panel 66cm high by 62cm wide. It took van Eyck four years to complete, from 1430-34. It originally was placed in Notre-Dame-du-Chastel, then after the parish burnt down in 1793, it was moved to Autun Cathedral then to its final place in the Louvre in 1805.

Van Eyck was born in 1395 in Maaseik, Belgium and passed away in Bruges, Belgium on July 9, 1441, and was buried at the Church of St. Donation, but the Church was destroyed in the French Revolution. He has a brother Hubert who he did collaborate with on the Ghent Altarpiece which was begun in 1420 and was completed in January 1432, while he was painting “The Madonna with Chancellor Rolin”. John of Barvaria died in 1425, and then he entered the service of Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy, who was a powerful and influential Valois prince. He accepted foreign commissions while he was in high esteem within the upper ranks of Burgundian nobility.

The Madonna with Chancellor Rolin is a good example of individuality due to the fact that van Eyck was one of the first and few at this time period who had begun using oils. He is often credited with the one who invented it, yet he did not. He was the “main representative of the new type of painting. Technique of oil painting became more wide spread. It allowed light and natural details to be depicted with a greater brilliance.”

He also developed glazing and wet on wet techniques that go along with this, which gave the painting a “greater sense of depth and light.” Another thing he did was sign him paintings. “Although unusual for the period, van Eyck signed his pictures, including his personal motto “Als ich kan” which translated is “As well as I can”.

“Composition and relationship between the figures and occupied space. Figures have a sculptured presense and are set within a room constructed according to the rules of perspective. Depth suggested by architecture, ornamental tiling and landscape; which is one of the work’s most remarkable features.”

Another thing van Eyck had going in this painting was a strong iconography. Inside “Madonna and Chancellor Rolin” was references to the Seven Deadly Sins. All of these references were placed on the Chancellor’s side of the painting. “ The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise” was on the reliefs above Rolin’s shoulder stands for Pride; two other reliefs are Envy (“Killing of Abel by Cain”) and Gluttony (“Drunkenness of Noah”). Anger is the Lion-heads on the capitals; Lust is the tiny squashed rabbits located below between the base and column. There are two missing, but in a way there are represented. In first view, nothing represents sloth and Avarice unless Rolin, the people out on the terrace and van Eyck himself stand for them.

Works Cited for birth information

Details on the columns
Details on the columns

Jan van Eyck A Flemish Master Painter - The Ghent Altarpiece


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