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Saint Barbara - Jan van Eyck

Saint Barbara

Jan van Eyck

(Maaseik ca.1390 – Bruges 1441)

Together with Rogier van der Weyden, Jan van Eyck is one of the giants among the Flemish Primitives. Barbara was the only daughter of a pagan Syrian noble who confined her to a tower to prevent anyone looking on her. He was angered by her conversion to Christianity and had her tortured, but to no avail; during the night, her injuries healed miraculously. Ultimately, he beheaded her, upon which the earth began to quake and he was struck by lightning. Here, Barbara is modestly leafing through a prayer-book, her left hand holding a palm branch. Behind her rises a Gothic church tower. Van Eyck seized upon the subject to depict a contemporary construction site. Art biographer Karel Van Mander describes the work as ‘underpainting’. It is the oldest surviving, uncompleted panel in the painting of The Netherlands and has been in the collections of Lucas de Heere (sixteenth-century Flemish painter and writer), Johannes Enschede, J. Cornelis Ploos van Amstel and Florent van Ertborn.

From the collection of the KMSKA.