The Fountain of Life (painting)
The Fountain of Life or The Fountain of Grace and the Triumph of the Church over the Synagogue are names given to an oil on panel painting completed c 1432. For most of its history the painting has been in Spain, where it is features in a special exhibition in the Museo del Prado, Madrid. Stylistically and thematically, the painting is related to the work of Jan van Eyck, but it is unsigned and there have been competing theories as to whether it is by van Eyck himself; the subject matter of the painting would have been of particular interest in 15th century Spain which had the world´s largest Jewish community. There has been recent speculation that it was painted by van Eyck himself while he was on a diplomatic mission to the Iberian peninsula. However, technical analysis suggests that it was painted in the Netherlands, albeit in response to a commission from Spain, in van Eyck's workshop; the Fountain of Life resembles passages in the 1432 Ghent Altarpiece by Jan and his brother Hubert. Although there is consensus among specialists that it is the product of a workshop, some attribute The Fountain of Life to a youthful Jan, his brother Hubert, or much and less Petrus Christus.
The painting is structured into three levels. The top terrace shows a Deësis of the Virgin Mary and St. John the Evangelist; the middle section shows four groups of angels. These two groups represent true believers and non true believers in Christ as the messiah respectively; the Fountain of Life is a symbol referring to eucharist. The water that flows from the top to the lower terrace, is intended as a symbol of "the Grace that illuminates the Triumphant Church and blinds the Synagogue"; the painting is organised into three horizontal levels or planes, each showing a terrace on which the figures are positioned. The top level shows a Deësis scene, with God the Father in the center, flanked by the Virgin Mary and St. John the Evangelist; this passage resembles a similar scene in the Ghent Altarpiece. All three figures are seated in front of hanging oriental style carpets. God holds a staff in his right hand, holds up his left up in the act of blessing, he is enthroned within a elaborate Gothic architectural setting.
His throne contains symbols of the Evangelists, while the baldachin around and above him is decorated with illusionistic painted reliefs of Old Testament prophets intended to look like sculptures. The lamb sits on a pedestal before God, on a structure through which the water of grace, symbolising the rite of baptism, flows before reaching the fountain of life in the lowest terrace. Mary is seated and reading a red book a book of hours, she wears a blue gown, the folds and cloth of which are detailed. She has blond hair, unbranded and falls over her shoulders. In contrast to her depiction in the Ghent Altarpiece, here her dress is plain, lacks any embroidery or gilded lining, while her book is not girdled. John is dressed in a green robe has blond hair and sits writing in a holy book; the middle level shows two groups of musical angels sitting on grass. Choirs of singing angels are positioned in towers on either side of them; this section is again similar to a panel in the Ghent Altarpiece. The instruments include a type of viol and a lute.
The lower section represents the triumph of the Church over the Jewish Synagogue, through the depiction of the Christians as collect as serene, the Jews as chaotic and resistant. The fountain of life is positioned in the center, with a group of Christians to its left, including a Pope, members of his service, an emperor and various princes. To the right is a grouping of "despairing Jews" who seem to be fleeing from the scene; the figure on the far left of this group is a high priest, blindfolded, symbolising his blinding to the true significance of Jesus. A rabbi in the immediate foreground holds a Torah scroll with, according to historian Norman Roth, "gibberish Hebrew writing", while another "Jew shows a scroll to a figure Christian, who tears his clothing at the sight". In contrast to the Christians, the Jews do not wear ceremonious hats or badges, they carry a variety of banners and parchments, which contains texts that while illegible, can be recognised as written in Hebrew, with some lettering, nonsensical.
The texts are arranged across the passage in a haphazard way, reflecting the disorder of the figures, more within the Synagogue. This placement must be contrasted with those on the two level, where the books held by Mary and John rest stably on their laps; the painting's first documentary record is in the Libro becerro of the Monastery of the Parral outside Segovia, which recorded it as the gift of King Henry IV of Castile in 1454. That year marked the beginning of Henry's reign, as well as a building programme at the monastery, he may have inherited the painting from his father John II. It was secured to the wall of the vestry, being painted into the wall as the vestry was redecorated down the centuries, until it was removed in 1838 as part of the secularisation of the monasteries: parts of the border were lost in the removal but the painting is in good condition; the painting was moved to the Trinidade monastery opposite the Atocha station in Madrid, used as a general store for the religious wealth collected.
The painting was photographed in 1859 by Jean Laurent. Its first formal attribution was in 1870 when it was transferred to the Prado, dating it as 1454 on the strength of th
Madonna of Chancellor Rolin
The Madonna of Chancellor Rolin is an oil painting by the Early Netherlandish master Jan van Eyck, dating from around 1435. It is kept in the Musée du Louvre and was commissioned by Nicolas Rolin, aged 60, chancellor of the Duchy of Burgundy, whose votive portrait takes up the left side of the picture, for his parish church, Notre-Dame-du-Chastel in Autun, where it remained until the church burnt down in 1793. After a period in Autun Cathedral, it was moved to the Louvre in 1805; the scene depicts the Virgin Mary crowned by a hovering Angel while she presents the Infant Jesus to Rolin. It is set within a spacious loggia with a rich decoration of bas-reliefs. In the background is a landscape with a city on a river intended to be Autun in Burgundy, Rolin's hometown. A wide range of well detailed palaces, churches, an island, a towered bridge and fields is portrayed, subject to a uniform light; some of the Chancellor's many landholdings around Autun are included in the vista. A haze covers a mountain range in the far distance.
As in many Early Netherlandish paintings, the steepness of the hills and mountains is shown as much greater than that found locally, for dramatic effect. The small garden with many flowers identifiable, visible just outside the columns, symbolizes Mary's virtues. Beyond, two male figures wearing chaperons are looking through the crenellations of what looks to be a fortified balcony or bridge. There has been speculation that they may represent van Eyck and an assistant, after the pattern of his Arnolfini Portrait; the figure on the right wears a similar red chaperon to the probable van Eyck self-portrait in the National Gallery, London. Near to them are two peacocks, symbols both of immortality and of pride, to which a powerful man as Rolin might succumb; the interior has complex light sources, typical of van Eyck, with light coming both from the central portico and the side windows. The chancellor, whose strong character is well rendered by the artist, is wearing a fur-lined, elegant garment.
The Infant Jesus holds a cross in his left hand. The perfectionist rendering of details and textures, such as the capitals, the checquered pavement, the goldwork of the angel's crown or the garments is characteristic of Jan van Eyck's work, of which this is one of the finest examples; as in other van Eycks, the depiction of the space is not as straightforward. Comparison of the floor-tiles with other elements shows that the figures are only about six feet from the columned loggia screen, that Rolin might have to squeeze himself through the opening to get out that way. Many van Eycks show an interior space, very small, but the depiction is subtly managed to retain a sense of intimacy, but without feeling constricted. Infrared reflectograms have disclosed a number of changes from the underdrawing. Rolin had a large purse hanging from his belt; the infant Christ was pointing at the floor. Old descriptions from Autun tell us that the painting had a wooden frame painted illusionistically with inscriptions carved, like van Eyck's two portraits in London.
The Virgin sits with the infant Christ "on her knee". This traditional motif is known as the Throne of Wisdom, was used by Jan van Eyck, who elaborated the meaning in complex allusions; the Virgin's body was compared to an altar, on which Christ was present as he was believed to be during the Mass. This painting may have hung to the left of Rolin's place at the front of his chapel in his parish church, between him and the altar. To Rolin, or a viewer of the real and painted Rolins together, the Virgin is painted in the position of the altar in the chapel; the illuminated manuscript in front of Rolin is open to a page with a large initial D, which indicates "Domine, labia mea aperies", the opening of Matins. The architecture of the loggia, as in so many of van Eyck's paintings, is in a rich and delicate Romanesque style far from the Gothic styles of his own day; the setting represents at the same time an imaginary building in Autun, the "Heavenly city of Jerusalem". The painting might be connected with the appointment in 1436 of Rolin's son Jean as Bishop of Autun.
Just above Rolin's hands there is a smaller church intended to represent a new church dedicated to the Virgin, or his own parish church, Notre-Dame-du-Chastel which he enriched. There appears to be a series of illustrations of the Seven deadly sins distributed among the details of the painting; the reliefs just over Rolin's head show the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise, the Killing of Abel by Cain and the Drunkenness of Noah. The lion-heads on the capitals behind Rolin may stand for Anger, the tiny squashed rabbits between column and base in the loggia screen for Lust. All these details are on Rolin's side of the painting; however this leaves Avarice and Sloth unaccounted for, unless the human figures of Rolin himself, the idlers out on the terrace (perhaps inc
Crucifixion and Last Judgement diptych
The Crucifixion and Last Judgement diptych consists of two small painted panels attributed to the Early Netherlandish artist Jan van Eyck, with areas finished by unidentified followers or members of his workshop. This diptych is one of the early Northern Renaissance oil on panel masterpieces, renowned for its unusually complex and detailed iconography, for the technical skill evident in its completion, it was executed in a miniature format. The diptych was commissioned for private devotion; the left-hand wing depicts the Crucifixion. It shows Christ's followers grieving in the foreground and spectators milling about in the mid-ground and a portrayal of three crucified bodies in the upper-ground; the scene is framed against an azure sky with a view of Jerusalem in the distance. The right-hand wing portrays scenes associated with the Last Judgement: a hellscape at its base, the resurrected awaiting judgement in the centre-ground, a representation of Christ in Majesty flanked by a Great Deësis of saints, clergy and nobility in the upper section.
Portions of the work contain Greek and Hebrew inscriptions. The original gilt frames contain Biblical passages in Latin drawn from the books of Isaiah and Revelation. According to a date written in Russian on their reverse, the panels were transferred to canvas supports in 1867; the earliest surviving mention of the work appears in 1841, when scholars believed the two panels were wings of a lost triptych. The Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired the diptych in 1933. At that time, the work was attributed to Jan's brother Hubert because key areas formally resembled pages of the Turin-Milan Hours, which were believed to be of Hubert's hand. On the evidence of technique and the style of dress of the figures, the majority of scholars believe the panels are late works by Jan van Eyck, executed in the early 1430s and finished after his death. Other art historians hold that van Eyck painted the panels around the early 1420s and attribute the weaker passages to a younger van Eyck's relative inexperience.
Along with Robert Campin and Rogier van der Weyden, Van Eyck revolutionised the approach towards naturalism and realism in Northern European painting during the early to mid 15th century. He was the first to manipulate oils to give the close detailing that infused his figures with the high degree of realism and complexity of emotion seen in this diptych, he coupled this with a mastery of glaze to create luminous surfaces with a deep perspective—most noticeable in the upper portion of the Crucifixion panel—which had not been achieved before. In the 1420s and 1430s, when oil and panel painting were still in their infancy, vertical formats were used for depictions of the Last Judgement, because the narrow framing suited a hierarchical presentation of heaven and hell. By contrast, depictions of the Crucifixion were presented in a horizontal format. To fit such expansive and detailed representations onto two small and narrow wings, van Eyck was forced to make a number of innovations, redesigning many elements of the Crucifixion panel to match the vertical and condensed presentation of the Judgement narrative.
The result is a panel with the crosses rising high into the sky, an unusually packed crowd scene in the mid-ground, the moving spectacle of the mourners in the foreground, all rendered in a continuous slope from bottom to top in the style of medieval tapestries. Art historian Otto Pächt says it "is the whole world in one painting, an Orbis Pictus". In the Crucifixion panel, van Eyck follows the early 14th-century tradition of presenting the biblical episodes using a narrative technique. According to art historian Jeffrey Chipps Smith, the episodes appear as "simultaneous, not sequential" events. Van Eyck condenses key episodes from the gospels into a single composition, each placed so as to draw the viewer's eye upward in a logical sequence; this device allowed van Eyck to create a greater illusion of depth with more complex and unusual spatial arrangements. In the Crucifixion panel, he uses different indicators to show the relative closeness of particular groupings of figures to Jesus. Given the size of the mourners in the foreground relative to the crucified figures, the soldiers and spectators gathered in the mid-ground are far larger than a strict adherence to perspective would allow.
In the Last Judgement the damned are placed in hell in the lower mid-ground while the saints and angels are positioned higher in the upper foreground. Pächt writes of this panel that the scene is "assimilated into a single spatial cosmos", with the archangel acting as a divider in the pictorial space between heaven and hell. Art historians are unsure as to whether the panels were meant to be a triptych, they may have formed the outer wings of a triptych, with a since-lost panel representing the Adoration of the Magi at the centre, or, as the German art historian J. D. Passavant speculated in 1841, the lost centre panel may have been a Nativity, it is now thought unlikely that a lost panel could be the postulated original companion to the outer wings. It has been proposed that a central piece was added or as Albert Châtelet writes, the central panel may have been stolen. Art historian Erwin Panofsky believed the Crucifixion and Last Judgement panels were intended as a diptych, he argued that it would have been unusual for mere outer wings to have been given the "sumptuous treatment" afforded these two panels.
This approach is reminiscent of the medieval reliquaries. Others have observed that triptychs were much larger works
Portrait of Jan de Leeuw
Portrait of Jan de Leeuw is a small 1436 oil on wood painting by the Early Netherlandish master Jan van Eyck, now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. De Leeuw was a goldsmith living in Bruges; the work is still in its original frame, painted over to look like bronze. Like the London self-portrait, the painting is dominated by black and dark brown hues, with red overtones. De Leeuw is presented as a serious young man with a rather intense gaze, he is wearing a black chaperon and black fur lined jacket. He turns to look at the viewer while holding a gold ring band with a red jewel, a symbol of his profession, although some have suggested that it might indicate a recent marriage engagement, or given his direct gaze, that the painted is meant for his intended. Formally and tonally, it resembles van Eyck's supposed self-portrait in the National Gallery, London. In both works, the head is oversized in relation to the torso; the Vienna panel is still in its original frame, which resembles that of the London panel, the central panel of the Dresden Triptych, a number of works by his workshop.
The frame is painted over to look like bronze. The panel's borders contains a fictive frame, inscribed on all sides; the letters are painted in black, are in the Flemish vernacular. The numerals are rendered in Arabic script; the lettering addresses the viewer directly, reads, IAN DE OP SANT ORSELEN DACH / DAT CLAER EERST MET OGHEN SACH, 1401 / GHECONTERFEIT NV HEEFT MI IAN / VAN EYCK WEL BLIICT WANNEERT BEGA 1436. The word "Leeuw" is substituted for a pictogram of a golden lion, a play on the sitter's surname - "Leeuw", means lion in Dutch. Parts of the lettering are carved into the fictive frame's border, other pieces are raised from it in relief; the inscription seems to contain three of chronograms, "a type of sophisticated word puzzle popular among humanists of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries", where the years in the text are represented when the values of the Roman numerals are summed. According to Bauman they can be found in its year of completion, the year of the sitter's birth and his age, although both Max Friedländer and Erwin Panofsky only accepted the first two.
Addressing the frank and direct aspect of the inscription, art historian Till-Holger Borchert remarked that the picture "appears to be speaking: the portrait address the viewer in the first person singular. The dialogue with the viewer initiated by the challenging gaze of the sitter is continued in the "spoken" address on the frame"; this sentiment is echoed by Guy Bauman of the Metropolitan Museum of Art who wrote in 1986 that, "Van Eyck seems, in a God-like way, not only to have endowed the sitter with sight and to have affected his rebirth, but recalling Fazio's remark, to have given the portrait a voice". Bauman, Guy. "Early Flemish Poertaits, 1425–1525". Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, vol 43, no. 4, Spring, 1986 Borchert, Till-Holger. Van Eyck. London: Taschen, 2008. ISBN 3-8228-5687-8 Campbell, Lorne; the Fifteenth-Century Netherlandish Paintings. London: National Gallery, 1998. ISBN 0-300-07701-7 Dhanens, Elisabeth. Hubert and Jan van Eyck. Antwerp: Alpine, 1981. ISBN 0-933516-13-4 Harbison, Craig.
"Jan van Eyck: The Play of Realism". Reaktion Books, 1997. ISBN 0-948462-79-5 Hudson, Hugh. "The chronograms in the inscription of Jan van Eyck's'Portrait of Jan de Leeuw'". Oud Holland, 116, No. 2, 2003. 96–99 O'Rourke Boyle, Marjorie. Divine Domesticity: Augustine of Thagaste to Teresa of Avila (Studies in the History of Christian Thought. Brill, 1996. ISBN 90-04-10675-8
Woman Bathing (van Eyck)
Woman Bathing is a lost panel painting by the Early Netherlandish artist Jan van Eyck. The work is today known through two copies, it is unique in van Eyck's known oeuvre for portraying a nude in secular setting, although there is mention in two 17th-century literary sources of other now lost but erotic van Eyck panels. The attribution of either panel to an original by van Eyck is not contested. 1441, it is accepted that neither is wishful thinking. Art historians broadly consider it that both were copied from a single source, that is, one is not a copy of the other, that both originate from the same period. Van Eyck's original was atypically daring and unusually erotic for a painting of the 1420s – early 1430s when it was completed. Apart from its own qualities, it is interesting to art historians due to the many similarities of the Harvard panel to his famous 1434 London Arnolfini Portrait; until the emergence of the Fogg copy around 1969, it was known through its appearance in Willem van Haecht's expansive 1628 painting The Gallery of Cornelis van der Geest, a view of a collector's gallery which contains many other identifiable old masters.
Art historians have sought in vain to attach to either a classical source. It shows a nude woman taking a sponge bath in an interior setting accompanied by a maid in a red gown; the woman preserves her modesty with a wash cloth held in her left hand as she reaches with her right towards a basin placed on a side-table. A convex mirror hangs from a central bar in the shuttered window above the basin, shows the reflection of both figures. In the tradition of such scenes, the mirror symbolises virtue and purity, while the dog in the lower center at the woman's feet – visible in the Fogg panel due to loss of paint, but more distinguishable in van der Geest's work – represents her fidelity, her bedchamber is richly detailed. An orange rests on the windowsill and there are discarded pattens on the floor in the lower left corner. Two other possible works by van Eyck of this style are known from descriptions only. In 1456, the Italian humanist Bartolomeo Facio described a panel in the collection of Ottaviano della Carda, a nephew of Federico da Montefeltro.
In the panel, sometimes known as Bathing Woman, the woman is attended by an older clothed maid as she emerges from her bath in a veil of fine linen which leaves only her head and breasts exposed. Facio's description includes details of a dog, a burning lamp similar to the one in the Arnolfini Portrait, a distant landscape visible through an open window. Facio mentions the innovative use of a mirror, which in the work is full length and reflects the entire back of the woman's body. There are many similarities with the Fogg panel, to van Eyck's famous London Arnolfini Portrait. While the former is much narrower and much smaller at 27.2 cm x 16.3 cm, it is around a third the size of the London portrait. Van Haecht's reproduction is thought closer to the actual scale than the Fogg panel given that the other works in The Gallery of Cornelis van der Geest are in general close to the originals that survived or had their dimensions recorded. Given that van Haecht did not give the work an prominent position in his own painting, it is unlikely that he was exaggerating its importance, so it might be reasonably deduced that it was not much smaller than this representation.
Both the Fogg and London panels show an interior containing a bed and a small dog, a mirror and its reflection, a chest of drawers and clogs on the floor, while the angle the attendant woman faces from, her dress and the outline of her figure, are broadly similar. Art historian Linda Seidel speculates that it was created as an accompanying panel, that the pair were intended as betrothal paintings; the London panel, she observes, may have been "painted for the wall of Giovanna Cenami's father's house where she would have seen it in the years between her betrothal and her marriage... perhaps... the erotic half may have been given to her future husband as guarantee of what he was promised". Seidel believes that the pattens at the lower left hand corner of the panel, as well as the fact that the mirror is angled towards the viewer's point of view, reinforce the idea that a future husband was the intended audience, she notes the work's unusually steep perspective, concludes that the "panel's controlling gaze align it with the mirror's reflection of the woman's naked body".
Although variants of this view have been long maintained, they are complicated by the fact that the similarities apply to the Harvard panel only. Lorne Campbell of the National Gallery is not convinced by the functional connection. While he acknowledges the similarities between the works, he points out that the Arnolfini has not conclusively been established as a wedding portrait, that if this was the case, it is more that the London panel was covered by wings rather than by a single panel, he reinforces his view with the fact the lost work differs in two
The Arnolfini Portrait is a 1434 oil painting on oak panel by the Early Netherlandish painter Jan van Eyck. It forms a full-length double portrait, believed to depict the Italian merchant Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini and his wife in their home in the Flemish city of Bruges, it is considered one of the most original and complex paintings in Western art, because of its beauty, complex iconography, geometric orthogonal perspective, expansion of the picture space with the use of a mirror. According to Ernst Gombrich "in its own way it was as new and revolutionary as Donatello's or Masaccio's work in Italy. A simple corner of the real world had been fixed on to a panel as if by magic... For the first time in history the artist became the perfect eye-witness in the truest sense of the term"; the portrait has been considered by Erwin Panofsky and some other art historians as a unique form of marriage contract, recorded as a painting. Signed and dated by van Eyck in 1434, it is, with the Ghent Altarpiece by the same artist and his brother Hubert, the oldest famous panel painting to have been executed in oils rather than in tempera.
The painting was bought by the National Gallery in London in 1842. Van Eyck used the technique of applying layer after layer of thin translucent glazes to create a painting with an intensity of both tone and colour; the glowing colours help to highlight the realism, to show the material wealth and opulence of Arnolfini's world. Van Eyck took advantage of the longer drying time of oil paint, compared to tempera, to blend colours by painting wet-in-wet to achieve subtle variations in light and shade to heighten the illusion of three-dimensional forms; the medium of oil paint permitted van Eyck to capture surface appearance and distinguish textures precisely. He rendered the effects of both direct and diffuse light by showing the light from the window on the left reflected by various surfaces, it has been suggested that he used a magnifying glass in order to paint the minute details such as the individual highlights on each of the amber beads hanging beside the mirror. The illusionism of the painting was remarkable for its time, in part for the rendering of detail, but for the use of light to evoke space in an interior, for "its utterly convincing depiction of a room, as well of the people who inhabit it".
Whatever meaning is given to the scene and its details, there has been much debate on this, according to Craig Harbison the painting "is the only fifteenth-century Northern panel to survive in which the artist's contemporaries are shown engaged in some sort of action in a contemporary interior. It is indeed tempting to call this the first genre painting – a painting of everyday life – of modern times"; the painting is in good condition, though with small losses of original paint and damages, which have been retouched. Infrared reflectograms of the painting show many small alterations, or pentimenti, in the underdrawing: to both faces, to the mirror, to other elements; the couple are shown in an upstairs room with a chest and a bed in it during early summer as indicated by the fruit on the cherry tree outside the window. The room functioned as a reception room, as it was the fashion in France and Burgundy where beds in reception rooms were used as seating, for example, when a mother with a new baby received visitors.
The window has six interior wooden shutters, but only the top opening has glass, with clear bulls-eye pieces set in blue and green stained glass. The two figures are richly dressed; the furs may be the expensive sable for him and ermine or miniver for her. He wears a hat of plaited straw dyed black, as worn in the summer at the time, his tabard was more purple than it may be intended to be silk velvet. Underneath he wears a doublet of patterned material silk damask, her dress has elaborate dagging on the sleeves, a long train. Her blue underdress is trimmed with white fur. Although the woman's plain gold necklace and the rings that both wear are the only jewellery visible, both outfits would have been enormously expensive, appreciated as such by a contemporary viewer. There may be an element of restraint in their clothes befitting their merchant status – portraits of aristocrats tend to show gold chains and more decorated cloth, although "the restrained colours of the man's clothing correspond to those favoured by Duke Phillip of Burgundy".
The interior of the room has other signs of wealth. It would have had a mechanism with pulley and chains above, to lower it for managing the candles; the convex mirror at the back, in a wooden frame with scenes of The Passion painted behind glass, is shown larger than such mirrors could be made at this date – another discreet departure from realism by van Eyck. There is no sign of a fireplace, nor anywhere obvious to put one; the oranges casually placed to the left are a sign of wealth. Further signs of luxury are the elaborate bed-hangings and the carvings on the chair and bench against the back wall the small Orien
Léal Souvenir is a small oil-on-oak panel portrait by the Early Netherlandish painter Jan van Eyck, dated 1432. The sitter has not been identified, but his individual features suggest a historical person rather than the hypothetical ideal usual at the time in northern Renaissance portraiture, his features have been described as thoughtful and inward-looking. A number of art historians, including Erwin Panofsky, have detected mournfulness in his expression; the sitter was significant enough a member of the Burgundian duke Philip the Good's circle that his court painter portrayed him. The man sits before an imitation parapet with three sets of painted inscriptions, each rendered to look as if chiselled or scratched into stone. Van Eyck did not have full command of either classical Greek or Latin and made errors, so readings by modern scholars vary; the first inscription is in Greek and seems to spell "TYΜ.ωΘΕΟC", which has not been satisfactorily interpreted but has led some to title the work Timotheus.
The middle reads in French "Leal Souvenir" and indicates that the portrait is a posthumous commemoration. The third records van Eyck's signature and the date of execution; the 19th-century art historian Hippolyte Fierens-Gevaert identified the lettering "TYΜ.ωΘΕΟC" with the Greek musician Timotheus of Miletus. Panofsky drew the same conclusion. Panofsky believed the man was a placed musician in Philip's court. More recent research focuses on the legalistic wording in one of the inscriptions, suggesting to some that he was in some way connected to the legal profession, or an employee of Philip the Good; the panel was acquired in 1857 by the National Gallery, where it is on permanent display. Léal Souvenir is one of the earliest surviving examples of secular portraiture in medieval European art and one of the earliest extant unidealised representations; this is apparent in its realism and acute observation of the details of the man's everyday appearance. Van Eyck pioneered the manipulation of oil paint.
Oil allowed smooth translucent surfaces, could be applied across a range of thicknesses and was manipulable while wet, which allowed far more subtle detail than available to previous generations of painters. The parapet dominates the portrait, his head seems oversized compared to his upper body; some art historians speculate that this is a result of van Eyck's inexperience. Meiss speculates that van Eyck may have "los control of design as a whole by indulging his astounding virtuosity." The decayed parapet allows van Eyck to display his skill at mimicking stone chiselling and scarring, shows the influence of classical Roman funerary art stone memorials. The parapet gives the work gravitas, the chips and cracks conveying a sense of the venerable, or, according to art historian Elisabeth Dhanens, a sense of the "fragility of life or of memory itself"; the man is set against a flat black background. For van Eyck, the head is large in relation to the torso, he is dressed in Burgundian fashion, with a red robe and a green wool chaperon with a bourrelet and cornette hanging forward.
The headdress is trimmed with fur, fastened with two buttons, extends to the parapet. His right hand might be holding the end of the cornette. Neither the shape of his head nor his facial features correspond to contemporary standard types, let alone canons of ideal beauty; the sitter appears to be bald, although there are some faint traces of fair hair, leading Erwin Panofsky to conclude that his "countenance is as'Nordic' as his dress is Burgundian." Though he has neither eyebrows nor stubble, he does have eyelashes that are believed to have been added by a 19th-century restorer. Van Eyck's cool observation of the man's narrow shoulders, pursed lips, thin eyebrows extends to detailing the moisture on his blue eyes. Unlike Rogier van der Weyden, who paid close attention to detail in the rendering of his models' fingers, to van Eyck hands were something of an afterthought, they are generically rendered, do not contain much detail and may have been a workshop addition. Yet they are similar to those of the sitter in his c. 1435 Portrait of Baudouin de Lannoy.
The man holds a scroll that might be letter, or pamphlet. In his early portraits, van Eyck's sitters are shown holding objects indicative of their profession; the scroll contains six lines of illegible writing. The abbreviations seem to be in Latin, but may be vernacular. Light falls from the left, leaving traces of shadow on the side of the man's face, a device found in van Eyck's early portraits, he is youthful, his face has a soft fleshiness achieved through shallow curves and flowing, harmonious brushstrokes, giving the appearance of a relaxed and open personality, which Meiss describes as evoking an "Rembrandtesque warmth and sympathy". The sitter is not handsome. Dhanens describes him as having an honest expression. A number of art historians have noted the apparent contradiction between the man's plain looks and enigmatic expression. Meiss describes him as "plain and rustic", finds a resemblance between his rather generic face and a number of figures in the