Colnaghi Foundation Journal 04 - Page 49



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The impact of Jan van Eyck’s lost Lomellini Triptych and his Genoese patrons
The impact of Jan van Eyck’s lost Lomellini Triptych and his Genoese patrons
The same can be said about the two prophets that are
depicted on top of the two trompe-l’oeil columns on
either side of God the Father. As in the Annunciation
from Aix-en-Provence, where prophets appear in
a similar context, both figures derive from the Old
Testament. Here they are depicted as unpolychromed
stone sculptures below gothic baldachins. The texts
on the left prophet’s banderole – “Ecce virgo concipiet
et pariet” (Isaiah 4:14) – identifies him as Isaiah. The
text held by the right prophet – “Audi filia et vide et
inclina aurem tuam” (Psalm 44:11) – also alludes to the
Annunciation and was performed during Marian
offices, but it does not help us to identify this figure.
While it is true that some of the objects prominently
included in the Annunciation – such as the pyxes, the
hour glass, the lavabo, and the stacks of books – were
likely copied from the Eyckian prototype in Genoa,
these motifs occur in several other paintings of the
period as well.73 What reveals beyond doubt that
the painter must have had access to and intimate
knowledge of the Lomellini Triptych are Jos Amman’s
incorporations of a few unusually detailed motifs: the
depiction of tiny bookmark strings in the books kept
in lower part of the prayer stool, for example, is a very
rare detail that one encounters in the depiction of
John the Baptist in the Ghent Altarpiece. A similarly
significant detail is a pair of keys that is attached
to the little door at the reverse of the prayer stool,
casting a painted shadow on the lavishly decorated
wood. Finally, there is the little bird depicted on the
edge of the brass basin, drinking from it while its
image is reflected in the mirror-like surface of the
water. This highly uncommon motif was presumably
directly derived from Van Eyck’s lost original,
where it may have been meant as a witty allusion to
Pliny’s narratives about the illusionistic skills of the
antique painters that even misled nature. Van Eyck
occasionally included similar visual allusions that
referred to anecdotes about painters from classical
antiquity.74
Given these detailed references, the mural becomes
a helpful tool in identifying additional motifs that
must have been present on the lost original. The
embroidered saints and prophets on Gabriel’s cope,
for example, were presumably part of the original
design: Jan van Eyck depicted similar embroideries in
several of his paintings including the Virgin of Canon
Joris van der Paele of 1436 (fig. 15). Even the posture
of Amman’s archangel shows remarkable similarities
with representations of angels in works by or closely
related to Van Eyck and his workshop, again
suggesting a direct link.75
47
This feature appears on a small number of other
paintings of the Annunciation that were produced
around the mid-fifteenth century. It is possible that
Van Eyck recorded his composition in a drawing for
his workshop which remained in the Bruges atelier
after the artist’s death in 1441; additional patterndrawings that circulated among artists may well have
contained this kind of specific motif.
Fig. 15 / Jan van Eyck,
Virgin of Canon Joris van
der Paele (detail), 1436,
oil on panel, Bruges,
Groeningemuseum (left).
Fig. 16 / Johann
Koerbecke, Annunciation,
ca. 1455, oil on panel, The
Art Institute of Chicago
(above).
Another panel that shares some of the Eyckian
features discussed above was by the painter Johannes
Koerbeke of Münster (Westphalia) (fig. 16). Active
from 1446 until 1491, his work was fundamentally
influenced by art from the neighbouring Low
Countries as well as by painting in Cologne. His
Annunciation, originally part of a monumental
altarpiece commissioned for the Cistercian Abbey
of Marienfeld, was painted around 1455 since the
retable was installed on the altar in 1457.76 At first,
the composition seems much less complex than Jos
Amman’s fresco. Koerbeke represents the biblical
scene in a room with a tiled floor and bench, and
four angels holding a green brocade cloth before
a gilded background. The figure of the archangel
points, however, to a distant knowledge of the Eyckian
original and, most importantly, the painter situates
the event below a stone baldachin with tracery that
rests on two small columns. The Annunciation is the
only scene among the fifteen surviving panels of
Koerbeke’s altarpiece to include this type of framing.
Not only are tracery and decoration of the baldachin
similar to the tromple-l’oeil wall of the fresco,
Koerbeke also includes two prophets to the side of
God the Father who – as in Genoa – appears above
the scene in between Gabriel and the Virgin.

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