Van Eyck was a homo universalis, like Leonardo da Vinci
From Brussels to Bruges, and vice versa
Maximiliaan Martens: “Obviously, in Van Eyck’s time, there were no conferences in the modern sense of the word. There is an indication, however, that there was a meeting of various St Luke’s guilds – as the guild of painters was called – in Tournai, in the late 1430s. The context for this is vague, but we can assume that an important exchange of ideas occurred there.
This also happened on the occasion of important festivities, such as the marriage of Charles the Bold with Margaret of York in Bruges. In 1468, artists from across the Burgundian Netherlands came together to work on the decorations for the feast. For a period of a few days up to two months, some 200 artists gathered in a conference-like setting. This explains why Brussels-types suddenly appear in certain artworks in Bruges, and vice versa.
In 1454, a similar initiative, Philip the Good’s “Banquet du Faisant”, had taken place in Lille, in order to muster the members of the Order of the Golden Fleece for a new crusade. There, too, artists worked together in the same constellation for an extended period, decorating the streets and staging the banquet.
So, we do know some examples of conference-like settings. The details that we have about this are very dry, such as expenses on the city account. There is some evidence of exuberance, however, such as papier-mâché constructions that birds flew out of. So, we have a vague picture of things.”
We do know of examples of conference-like settings in the fifteenth century.
Painters were assisted by experts. This was the case, for instance, with the triptych of the Last Supper, which Dirk Bouts painted for Saint Peter’s Church in Leuven. The contract has been preserved, and it states that the painter had to be assisted by two theologians from the University of Leuven. So, there was consultation with experts, certainly for prominent commissions.
With respect to Van Eyck, you notice this assistance in very subtle details. In the Ghent Altarpiece, there is an angel playing the organ. Van Eyck altered the position of the angel’s fingers when he painted them – in the underdrawing, the fingering was different. Musicologists have determined that as a result, the angel is now striking a more correct chord for polyphonic music. This adjustment must have been made on the advice of an organ player or musicians, who pointed out to Van Eyck that the fingering was incorrect. Expert advice certainly played a role.”
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