I hadn’t heard of Jan van Eyck until I arrived in Belgium three years ago. Now when I think back, it seems a little embarrassing. Van Eyck is one of the best painters in the world, one of the legendary Flemish painters in Belgium, arguably the father of Northern (European) Renaissance art and presumably the first painter to have successfully implemented oil paint on canvas. He’s a part of the enormous legacy that Flemish painters have left behind in Belgium and in Europe, overall. I am, however, not ashamed to admit that I have been properly introduced to art after living in Europe. There’s art everywhere around – inside churches, outside on their façades, in the architecture, in sculptures strewn carelessly within parks, in fountains and little gates – it’s just indescribable. When you discover so much art around you, it inspires in ways that you didn’t know existed.
I can write pages about Van Eyck and his art, but I’d tell you how his inspired mine in a tiny way.
Jan van Eyck chose AΛΣ · IXH · XAN as his motto and generally inscribed it in pseudo-Greek letters; it is, however, in Dutch and means “as I can” or “as best I can” as in “as best I can, not as I would”, which is presumably meant to imply the artist’s modest appreciation of his own work. (source: Codart)
He inscribed this motto in quite a few of his works, one even on the frame and they are a delight to people like us who visit his paintings centuries later. We chanced upon a temporary exhibition on Jan van Eyck last year at the Kunshistoriches Museum, Vienna. It was, indeed, the chance of a lifetime as there are only 20 preserved works of Van Eyck in the world now. A few of them featured in this exhibition and we gazed at them in awe as long as we could, no photographs were allowed though. The most famous piece of work by Jan van Eyck is the Ghent Altarpiece comprising twelve huge panels, two of them still missing as they had been stolen twice in history. Those panels also feature the signature motto AΛΣ · IXH · XAN.
I was quite moved by this unique motto by a painter as most others have done away with a signature. Very few choose anything as distinctive to represent their style. My husband was pretty influenced by this motto and he decided to make this his own. As a result, I tried to recreate it on embroidery and gift this to him. It’s a plain running stitch on black fabric. I found the concept beautiful and I’m happy that M has found a motto that he can embrace into his life and work.
I haven’t found mine yet, though. Have you?
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