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An Analysis of Jan Van Eyck’s Man in a Red Turban

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Jan Van Eyck’s “Man in a Red Turban” is a completely secular portrait without the layer of religious interpretation common to Flemish painting at that time. In this work the image of a living individual apparently required no religious purpose for being, only a personal one. As human beings confronted themselves in painted portraits, they objectified themselves as people. In this confrontation, the man van Eyck portrayed looks directly at the viewer, or perhaps, at himself in the mirror. The composed gaze directed from a true three-quarter head pose, must have impressed observers deeply.

The painter created the illusion that from whatever angle a viewer observes the face, the eyes return that gaze. The artist created a heightened sense of reality into this portrait by including beard stubble, veins in the bloodshot left eye, and weathered and aged skin. The possibility that Man in a Red Turban is a Van Eyck self portrait seems to be reinforced by the inscriptions on the frame, across the top, Van Eyck wrote “as I can” in Flemish using Greek letters, and across the bottom in Latin appears the statement “Jan Van Eyck made me” and the date. Judging from the form of the painting I would have to say that the Man in a Red Turban is probably a portrait of Jan Van Eyck himself.

I believe that because this was painted in the height of Van Eyck’s career he became so amazed in how realistic he could depict the human form. One other reason I believe that this could only be Van Eyck is because of his extravagant turban on his head. I believe that the turban is an artistic statement and he wanted to attract attention to himself. He was so confident in his painting skills that he wrote on the frame of the painting “as I can”, this was a statement that basically said “look at what I can do”. Another reason I believe that this is Van Eyck’s self portrait is because I believe that no one who was wealthy enough to afford a portrait for the great Jan Van Eyck would allow him to paint weathered skin, bloodshot eyes, and stubble on his chin. This would have been seen as ugly or not desirable. I believe that Jan van Eyck would have bloodshot eyes and wouldn’t have time to shave because he really didn’t care about his physical appearance; he really cared about painting the most realistic depiction of the human form ever seen.

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