The Flemish School 1

THE pictures are not arranged in this order, but the Flemish and Italian arts are the nearest allied. The Italians developed their oil-painting on Flemish lines ; and although oil frequently replaced tempera in Italy, the oil and varnish painting perfected by the Van Eycks is quite another thing. It was Antonello da Messina who made a journey to Flanders to learn the then new method, and several examples of his works are to be found in the great Venetian room, somewhat in Van Eyck's manner, but far inferior in modelling.
If there is no truth in the legend which tells us that Andrea del Castagno murdered a brother artist through whom the Flemish secret had been imparted to him, to prevent the knowledge extending further, there can be little doubt that some painters were jealous of their technical secrets ; and for this reason we have to reconstruct from external evidence what appears to have been the methods pursued.
To what degree of perfection Jan Van Eyck carried his new-found art can be seen in the
National Gallery. The eyes in this are worthy of the closest study ; the head is thinly painted on the gesso ground.
portrait-group of " Jan Arnolfini and his Wife." It enabled him to realise a fulness of tone, a variety of textures, and a microscopic completeness that had not been possible in the fresco tempera, or other methods in use prior to the discovery of his varnish oil medium.
The white of the ground shines through the semi-opaque light passages, and the draperies and accessories only are solidly covered. The head of a man in a red head-dress by the same master is a gem unapproached. Note the liquid eye and the subtlety of the flesh colouring quite thinly painted. There is probably nothing between the gesso ground and the semi-opaque colour over it. It was to these pictures that the English Pre-Raphaelites turned for inspiration and guidance.
There are just two methods for the painting of light which are technically perfect. One is the translucent process of Van Eyck, the other the manner taught in the school of Rubens.
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