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Jan van Eyck, Realist and Narrator: On the Structure and Artistic Sources of the New York "Crucifixion"

Adam S. Labuda
Artibus et Historiae
Vol. 14, No. 27 (1993), pp. 9-30
Published by: IRSA s.c.
DOI: 10.2307/1483443
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1483443
Page Count: 22
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Jan van Eyck, Realist and Narrator: On the Structure and Artistic Sources of the New York "Crucifixion"
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Abstract

Jan van Eyck's aim in painting the "Crucifixion" panel of the diptych in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art was to portray the drama of the Passion "exactly as it happened." Indeed, he achieved a startling degree of realism in the spatial and temporal relationships represented, and the setting, the figures, and the interaction between the latter are all treated with meticulous truthfulness. To create this world which imitates empirical reality but also maintains something of an autonomous, nonreferential existence, the artist used a specific type of composition, that of the "populous calvary." This genre, as Hans Belting and Dagmar Eichberger have shown in their groundbreaking work on van Eyck, is marked by features of pictorial narration. The present article points out that these features in "The Crucifixion" merely constitute a narrative framework for many of the painting's special characteristics, in particular its instantaneous, snapshot-like quality, derived from the open yet fragmentary handling of space. Their origins lie in Italian painting of the first half of the 14th century. An important source of the narrative element may be the little-known "Crucifixion" panel attributed to Pietro Lorenzetti in the Museo Stibbert, Florence, while the earliest example of the element of eventfulness and immediacy may be Duccio's "Entry into Jerusalem from the main altar of the cathedral of Siena.

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