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Jan van Eyck, Portrait of a Man ('Léal Souvenir')

Key facts
Full title Portrait of a Man ('Léal Souvenir')
Artist Jan van Eyck
Artist dates active 1422; died 1441
Date made 1432
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 33.3 × 18.9 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated and inscribed
Acquisition credit Bought, 1857
Inventory number NG290
Location Room 28
Collection Main Collection
Portrait of a Man ('Léal Souvenir')
Jan van Eyck

This small portrait is puzzling in many ways. We don‘t know who this man was or why he is holding a scroll, which is – rather strangely – inscribed on the outside. The painting’s tall, narrow shape is unusual and there are mysterious inscriptions carved into the very large, cracked stone parapet which runs across the front.

At the bottom is van Eyck’s signature in Latin, and the date of 10 October 1432. Above this are large capitals apparently carved into the stone: LEAL SOVVENIR (’Loyal Remembrance‘ in French). At the top is a small Latin inscription written in Greek letters: TUM OTHEOS (’then God'). What this means is unclear.

It is possible that it was painted after the sitter’s death, in which case the crumbling parapet might be an allusion to man’s mortality. His name might have been on the lost frame.

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