« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
drying qualities of linseed and nut oils were unknown to Van Eyck and the world previous to the experiments here referred to ; and it is almost impossible that Wasari should have intended to convey such a meaning, when we know that he was perfectly acquainted with the treatise of Ghiberti, in which it is affirmed that “ Giotto painted on the wall, painted in oils, and painted on panel.” Nor can we consider him to have been ignorant of the labours of Cennino Cennini, the pupil of Gaddi, who wrote in 1437 his treatise on painting, in which so many chapters are exclusively devoted to the subject of oils used in colours. He must have intended to express, not that Wan Eyck discovered the qualities of linseed and nut oils, but, after repeated experiments, found that none were more drying than those, a fact of which he was not previously certain. His efforts would, therefore, be at first in one particular direction ; namely, to make linseed and nut oils as siccative as possible. When he had obtained this, he mingled these oils with certain mixtures, and he obtained a more drying varnish. Thus the first grand step was gained.
The next, according to Vasari, was this :—
“After having made experiments of many other things, he saw that the mixing of the colour with these sorts of oils gave it a much stronger tempera, and that it dried, and not only did it not dread water, but it increased the vigour of the colour so much, that it gave it lustre of its own without varnish, and, what seemed most marvellous, it mingled infinitely better than tempera.”
In these latter sentences are evidently condensed the experiments and discoveries of years. The really great thing which was done was the mingling of the new medium with colours. But the result of doing so is curious, and has not, perhaps, been dwelt on sufficiently. The mixture of the new medium with colours rendered their tones more vigorous, so that the necessity of the coloured varnish must have been superseded. The object of Wan Eyck, which was first to obtain a more drying coloured varnish, was at last to obtain a colourless medium ; for the vigour which was given to tempera by the last coat of preservative oleo resinous varnish was obtained without that means. From the very time, therefore, when the medium was employed mixed with colours, the old coloured varnish was superseded, and it became necessary to obtain, as a preservative, a pure and colourless medium. The final studies of John Wan Eyck must then of necessity have been to liquefy, as well as to purify his medium. It was evident that the old varnish, which was laid on tempera with a sponge, or with the hand, was far too viscous to be useful in mixing colours, and must, therefore, be liquefied. By means of its use the proceedings of the old painters were changed; and from tempera pictures partially painted in oil, no doubt there was a change to oil pictures partially painted in tempera. It is needless to say a word as to the mixtures which Wasari says were used by Van Eyck. They were, doubtless, resinous substances, of which it is impossible to state the species or the combination. We come now to the contested point, how far was John Wan Eyck the discoverer of these improvements, and what was the share which Hubert Van Eyck had in them? It must be admitted, that although Vasari, and after him Wan Mander, fix the date of the occurrences first described in 1410, the talent of the family must have been known before that time, and the experiments and accidents mentioned have covered a very great number of years. The means of painting and preserving pictures from a variable climate, imperfectly known to the painters who preceded the Van Eycks, and even to their contemporaries, must have been a source of early study in the studio of Hubert Wan Eyck. It was a question, indeed, which was agitated in Germany and Flanders long before it arose in Italy. The testimony of Cennini, of Filarete, and of Summonzio, is in favour of this statement, and the results obtained in Flanders are almost a proof of it. Assuming, however, for a moment, that the date be a correct one, and certainly the improvements in question must have been partially made about that time, we find Hubert Wan Eyck older by about twenty years than his brother, head of a school in Ghent two years after, and admittedly having expended his utmost endeavours to give his brother John an education worthy of them both. John Wan Eyck, on the other hand, can hardly have attained his nineteenth year, and may not have been older than fifteen. Hubert, at that time full of years and experience, no doubt directed his school, and may have left the manipulation of experiments to his pupils. Among these, no doubt, was John, who, though young, must have been of precocious and clear mind, and was an adept, as we are told, in science. But even though the material manipulations of these experiments may have belonged to the younger man, the directing
* Wide Ghiberti in Vasari, ut sup., vol. i. p. xviii.
mind was that of the elder, and to him we must look for the earliest applications of improvements in the use of oil. Chemistry was a necessary part of the daily labour of the old schools of art, where the painters had to provide their own materials and make them up for use; and, no doubt, John Van Eyck laboured in that branch, and learned practically to conquer those difficulties, and complete the system which time and long experience only brought to maturity.
The first practical example of the new manner, it must be borne in mind, is a picture by Petrus Cristus, of the year 1417, painted in a manner which convinces the spectator that the author of it was the pupil of Hubert Van Eyck.' If it be assumed that the earlier improvements were complete in 1410, then Cristus would have had five or six years to perfect himself in them. It is not till 1420 that John Van Eyck became connected by fame with the discoveries of oil-painting. It was in that year, and not earlier, that he was present at a gathering of painters in Antwerp, where he exhibited in triumph a picture representing the Saviour; upon the beauty of which he received the utmost compliment, not only because of its intrinsic merit, but because it was painted in oil-colours. But the admiration of the Antwerp
See further, Life of Petrus Cristus, p. 120. 2 In't yaer 1549 is er doer den Antwerpshen adel enen drikbeker vereert aen deze school. .... Waerop verbéeld waren Jan Van Eyck, in het jaer 1420 ni eene vergaedering een hoofelt toonde, door hem met Olie vermengde verf gemackt, waer over hy gecomplimentiert is Geworden. ..."-Extract from the registers of the Brotherhood of St. Luke, Antwerp. Van Kirchhoff. Notice sur l'Académie d'Anvers, 1824, in Michiels (A.) Histoire de la peinture famande et hollandaise, Bruxelles, 1845, vol. ii. p. 148.
painters may have been owing less to the novelty of the discovery, than to some notable improvement introduced by John in the practice of the new system of painting in oil; and we may safely suppose that at last, and after the death of Hubert, the practical difficulties of the question were finally resolved, and that for this John Van Eyck was hailed everywhere as the discoverer. The panels of Hubert Wan Eyck are an evidence of his superiority. It was not till he died that John became the first in art. He admits this himself in the epitaph to his brother, which is found on the picture of the Mystic Lamb. John Wan Eyck completed that picture after his brother's death, and showed his inferiority in immediate contrast. There is no picture in the school which possesses such vigour of conception and colour as those parts which are executed by Hubert. But the method in which the panels are painted prove also that John Van Eyck became more perfect in the mechanical and chemical portion of his art. John Van Eyck's panels indisputably offer to us a greater knowledge of the fusion of tints, greater finish and accuracy in the minutiae than those of his brother. They have a less brown and less dark tinge of shadow, which proves that progress had been made in the discoloration of varnishes; and these improvements he, no doubt, made and successfully carried out. It is, perhaps, for these reasons that Facio, the friend and follower of Alphonzo, king of Naples, called him.’ “prince of all the painters of his age; and not merely great in art, but also learned in
* Facius (Bartolomeus) De Wiris Illustrib, 4to. Flor. 1745.