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Jan van Eyck, Portrait of a Man (Self Portrait?)

Key facts
Full title Portrait of a Man (Self Portrait?)
Artist Jan van Eyck
Artist dates active 1422; died 1441
Date made 1433
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 26 × 19 cm
Inscription summary Signed; Dated and inscribed
Acquisition credit Bought, 1851
Inventory number NG222
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Portrait of a Man (Self Portrait?)
Jan van Eyck

This impassive face is almost certainly that of Jan van Eyck himself, and the painting a powerful statement of his artistic skill. His motto, Als Ich Can, is painted in Greek letters on the upper frame; the words are an abbreviation of a Flemish saying and a pun on Jan’s name: ‘as I[ich/Eyk] can [but not as I would]’. The bottom inscription is in abbreviated Latin and says, ‘Jan van Eyck made me on 21 October 1433’.

The sitter’s clothing is that of a prosperous individual. Most striking is his flamboyant red hat – a chaperon, a headdress for men fashionable in the fifteenth century. The hood, which usually hung down over the wearer’s neck and shoulders, has been piled up on top of the sitter’s head, the long tail wound around it. The strong contrast between the dark shadows in the creases and the bright highlights where the folded fabric catches the light is typical of van Eyck.

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