Page images

the superfluous ornaments which profusely cover them. With these exceptions, nothing is wanting in the pictures of Hubert Van Eyck. Few men of his time in Italy, none in the Netherlands, have proved themselves as perfect as he was in anatomy and in the perspective of the human frame. But where he most excelled was, as we have said, in colour. His works are vivid, powerful, and harmonious; and had Hubert's pupils been Italians instead of Flemings, had Venice and not Bruges become his restingplace, he would have been the founder of a school of colour. But the tendency to realism which marked his works became exaggerated in his pupils, who, seeking for perfection more in patient arts than by superior genius, fell at once into a lower rank, and never afterwards arose from it.

The noble talents exhibited by Hubert deserved to leave more memorable fruits, but, from the various causes assigned, he has left behind him but one authentic picture, and that is the Mystic Lamb of Ghent, of which the portions which he painted are dispersed, and part preserved at Ghent and at Berlin.

In its complete and finished form the altar-piece deserved the great and lasting admiration which it excited. It not only formed a splendid harmony within itself, but, being executed for the place in which it stood, it harmonized with all around it. Chapels and churches were then vastly different from what they are at present, or were a little later. The walls were covered here with tapestries, there with stuffs of various sorts; numerous votive pictures hung around, and the space was crowded where it is now empty." The chapel of Jodocus Wydts

! Witet, Notre Dame de Noyon, p. 31.

was devoted to setting off a splendid picture; and nothing can be well imagined finer than the open altarpiece, at the moment of the mass, unadorned by candles, flowers, or aught that carries off the eye; for these adornments were only introduced a little later. The subject, too, was grand and well-conceived, suited to the feelings of the people, and in harmony with the fervour of religion common to the age. It was taken from Revelations, then a fertile source of inspiration to the sculptor and the painter, from which at first, indeed, the former took the incidents which adorned the painted portals of the convents and cathedrals. There sat enthroned the figure of God the Father, holding up his fingers to bless the world, with the papal tiara on his head, John the Baptist on his left, and the Virgin Mary on his right. At his feet stood the Lamb; and round the altar where he bled were all the angels, all the saints and martyrs peculiarly made holy by the Church of Rome. There were popes and bishops, and female saints, hermits, and holy pilgrims, crusaders and heroes of the early Christian legends, all advancing to adore the Lamb, all converging to one central point, through varied landscapes, on foot with staves, on horseback, clad in simple tunic or sable armour. Nor, whilst the symbols of eternal happiness were thus paraded before the people, did the painter hesitate to place before them those of punishment; for on the socket of the altar-piece was seen a picture of the tortured down below, according to the old established custom, which made the monks of old Greek churches paint that subject upon the porticoes as emblematic of the hapless state which waits on those who kept without the

[graphic][subsumed][ocr errors][subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][subsumed][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

pale of the mother church. He represented also on the altar-piece the sybils who foretold the coming of our Saviour, the Annunciation and the Evangelists, Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel, in prominent positions, impressing on the mind of the spectator the enormity of mortal sin, destined to be purified by the sacrifice of the Lamb.

The three great figures of the Father, Mary, and St. John, those of Adam and Eve, all in perfect preservation, are undoubted works of Hubert, exhibiting the qualities and faults which characterise his manner. Two groups of choristers, one on each side, cannot be said with the same certainty to be by Hubert. St. John the Baptist was never painted with more austere expression or of more splendid form. The Virgin never was more pensively depicted. Her long light hair flowing on her shoulders, her graceful hands, holding the book, have all the truth of nature with elegance superadded. The figure of the Eternal is grand and solemn, although the painter, literally construing Scripture, overloaded the vestments with precious stones. The colour is of that strong and vigorous stamp which Hubert alone possessed. The tones are rich and brown, and free from all appearance of tedious workmanship. The ground is gold, and covered with inscriptions. In Adam is expressed the painter's sound knowledge of anatomy, and his study of the principles of perspective applied to the human form; and though the figure, on the whole, is not of noble shape, the head has dignity and the body fair proportions. Eve

The figure of Adam has two or three spots of a lighter tone than the rest of the panel. We are told that these were caused by an attempted cleaning.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »