This is the companion piece to Van Eyck’s Crucifixion, which I featured yesterday.
Though the Crucifixion panel is a strong and impressive painting — particularly given the small size of the panels of this diptych, each of which is only 22×7″ (56x20cm) — this panel of the Last Judgement is just astonishing.
I can’t say it gives a compelling picture of the glories of Heaven (though the angel is pretty impressive), but Van Eyck’s depiction of Hell here is a pull-out-the-stops tour-de-force of “You really don’t wanna go there!”
Not as well known as the famous vision of hell in Hieronymous Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, painted some 50 or 60 years later, this one is right up there in the scare you into towing the line department.
Given that the small size indicates that the original triptych, of which this was a part, was likely commissioned for personal devotion by an individual patron, one has to wonder about the state of mind of that individual. Or, perhaps his request for the subject of the work was more general, and he didn’t really know what he was getting until Van Eyck delivered the finished paintings.
I’ve even left out the most viscerally gruesome and horrific part of the image of hell, which is in the left portion of the panel.