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Friday, April 21, 2017

Barthélemy d'Eyck

Aix Annunciation, 1443-45, Barthelemy d'Eyck
I always find it fascinating when I encounter an artist whom the art "experts" admit they don't know everything there is to know as to their careers and the art which he or she produced. Naturally, the further back you go, the more likely you are to encounter such ambiguities. There is, of course, prehistoric art, having to do with cave paintings and crude wood and stone carvings for which no expert could be blamed for having to make conjectures. However, for all intents and purposes, when it comes to biographical, and academic details of an artist's life and work, it seems we should consider any art or artists up through most of the 15th-century as being "prehistoric." And it's here that terms and phrases such as attributed to, conjectured, undocumented, generally accepted, presumably, probably, associated with, considered as, uncertain, described as, suggesting, thought by many, proposed, may, might, and could creep in. I always told my students that in reading a contemporary news item, if any of those words appeared (or variations of them), to take what they read with the proverbial "grain of salt." And the more times such words appeared, the more grains of salt should be consumed (especially true today on the Internet). The same reasoning applies to art history.
Barthélemy d' Eyck, probably
a self-portrait, 1456
The Early Netherlandish painter, Bar-thélemy d'Eyck, is a perfect example. As an experiment, count the number of times any of the terms and phrases listed above are used from here on down. If the so-called "experts" are uncertain, what's a beleaguered, expository writer like me to do? For instance, Barthelemy d'Eyck was born ca. 1420 (ca. means "around"). He died after 1470--now there's an ambiguity if there ever was one. (After 1470 could mean the day before yes-terday.) He worked in France, probably in Burgundy, as a painter and manuscript illuminator. I could find no indication as to where he was probably born. The portrait (right) is attributed to the artist so that's presumably what he may have looked like.

An illuminated manuscript attributed to Barthelemy d'Eyck.
If the biographical details as to Barthélemy d'Eyck (Bartholomew of Eyck) are a bit on the "sketchy" side, when we look at the artist's work itself, the experts really get into educated guesses. In fact, no surviving works can be decisively documented as his, though he was praised by contemporary authors as one of the leading artist of the day. As a result, a number of important works are generally accepted as being by his hand. Barthélemy has been accepted by most experts as the artist formerly known only as "The Master of the Aix Annunciation" (top) as to painting. He was called "The Master of René of Anjou" for his illuminated manuscripts (above). Likewise, Barthelemy is thought by many to also be "The Master of the Shadows" responsible for parts of the prayer calendar, Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (The Rich Prayers of the Duke of Berry).

The book was worked on, for nearly a century--
1412-1489. Barthelemy is believed to have contributed
to the illustrations for the months of March, October,
December, and January.
It is believed that Barthélemy d'Eyck was related to the pioneer oil painter, Jan van Eyck. If so, it is undocumented. Barthélemy's stepfather was a cloth merchant who followed René of Anjou to Naples and later to Provence in the South of France. Virtually nothing is known of Barthélemy's mother other than that she was said to be of German descent and died in 1460. Some authorities have suggested, based on stylistic grounds and the likely family relationship, that Barthélemy trained in the workshop of Jan van Eyck. They think it likely that he worked in the 1430s on the Milan-Turin Hours, a famous illuminated manuscript, in which a number of different painting "hands" have been recognized. Much of the evidence survives only in black-and-white photographs after the manuscript's destruction in a fire. Barthélemy's last appearance is found in the accounts of his employer, René of Anjou (below). In 1469, he was paid his salary, plus that of three servants, and three horses. There is some evidence he lived until 1476. It's interesting how the minutiae survives in the annuls of art history while the important stuff becomes problematical.
The Dream of Rene Anjou, ca. 1440, Barthelemy d'Eyck

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