Jan van Eyck’s Crucifixion

Jan van Eyck, Crucifixion
This painting by the 15th century Netherlandish master, assisted by members of his workshop, is part of a remarkable set of two panels (thought to be originally a triptych, of which the third panel is missing). Each panel is only 22 by 7 inches (56x20cm). The other panel depicts the Last Judgement (more on that in a later post).

Van Eyck, perhaps the first great master of oil painting, has imbued his image with remarkable depth, and dedicated his attention to extraordinary detail, from the individual character of the multiple faces to intricate rendering of costume and such painterly touches as the reflection of figures in the shield of one observer.

Under a sky whose clouds might be a scientific study for meteorology, the visceral telling of the story unfolds against a background that recedes through a contemporary European city and over a river, on back to the atmospherically blued mountains beyond.

Presumably, in common with Van Eyck’s other paintings, almost everything here has significance, from the horse and rider in the middle distance to the identity and role (and expressions!) of those in attendance — whether historic in the context of the moment, or contemporary in relation to the patron for whom the work was created. (It might be assumed that the small scale work was created for personal devotion rather than display in a church.)

The original is now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.