Classroom Use of the Art Print

Arts & Activities, May 2007 | Go to article overview

Classroom Use of the Art Print


Jan van Eyck (Flemish; 1385-1441). The Arnolfini Wedding, 1434. National Gallery, London.

THINGS TO LEARN

* Jan van Eyck was born in what is now present-day Belgium, in 1385. He worked as the court painter to Philip the Good of Burgundy, and may have gone on diplomatic assignments in addition to his duties as a painter. He lived in Bruges for the majority of his life, and died there in 1441. He had a brother who was also a painter, Hubert van Eyck. The famous Ghent Altarpiece is attributed to both siblings, yet many art historians believe the majority of this masterpiece was executed by Jan.

* In the history of Western art, Jan van Eyck is perhaps the first "master" painter to use oil-based paints. Although the use of oil paints can be traced back to the ancient Roman civilization, Flemish artists from the late medieval period developed a formula that combined linseed or walnut oil with heated resin, into which pigments were mixed to produce a remarkable range of colors. These oil paints, as opposed to pigments mixed into an egg-yolk medium (tempera), allowed van Eyck to achieve subtle effects of light, shadow and gradations of color.

* A hallmark of van Eyck's style is his remarkable ability to create the illusion of texture, as evidenced in many areas of this month's Art Print, The Arnolfini Wedding" fur (the dog, the groom's cloak, the trim of the green bridal gown); wood (the soles of the clogs, the floorboards, the window frame, the headboard); textures and folds of fabric (the fur cape and bridal gown, the red bed linens, the bride's lace headdress, Arnolfini's velvet wedding hat, the Oriental rug); and architectural textures (ironwork of the window, the exterior brick).

* Van Eyck is also famous for the way in which he depicted the effects of light. In this painting, his ability to see and render lighting effects can be found in the reflection of the natural light off the chandelier, the chiaroscuro effect on the peaches that rest on a table below the window, as well as the highlights and shadows on the face of the groom.

* Along with his signature, many of van Eyck's works are signed "Als ich chan," which means "As I can." In The Arnolfini Wedding, the artist's signature reads: Johannes de Eyck fuit his 1434: "Jan van Eyck was here 1434."

THINGS TO DO

* Primary. The paintings of Jan van Eyck are chockfull of objects, most of which have symbolic significance. Show students the Art Print and explain that the scene depicts a couple getting married in their home. Ask students why this couple might be dressed the way they are (they lived a long time ago; this was the fashion of the day).

Next, tell students that the artist liked to paint things in a very realistic way, and also liked to include things that mean something more than what they are (symbolism). …

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