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Saint Barbara

Jan van Eyck Netherlandish

Not on view

There is an ongoing debate about the nature of this refined work, signed and dated by Jan van Eyck and set within its original frame: Is it an exquisitely drawn preparation for an unfinished painting, or an unusual finished drawing with color, perhaps inspired by manuscript illumination? It depicts the early Christian Saint Barbara seated before a bustling scene that shows the building of a tower that will be her prison. The image is made up of differently weighted brush lines alongside lines made by a metal point that left shallow incisions in the wood panel. Discrete areas have been painted: the sky with its birds and moon, and the white on the traceries of the windows. It may be the work that Karel van Mander, a Flemish painter and writer, praised in the early seventeenth century as "more exactly and precisely done than the finished works of other masters ever could be."

Saint Barbara, Jan van Eyck (Netherlandish, Maaseik ca. 1390–1441 Bruges), Metalpoint, brush drawing, and oil on wood

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