Van Eyck's United

Michael Leech previews the Jan van Eyck exhibition at the National Gallery.

Small is beautiful, as advertising slogans so tiresomely tell us, but it is unlikely that a show as small as the Jan van Eyck exhibition which opens at the National Gallery in London on the 15th, will be viewed as anything but big.

This is an important show because it brings together not only the National Gallery’s pictures of the Flemish master (including the famous ‘Arnolfini Marriage’) but also a major example from Washington’s National Gallery, ‘the Annunciation’.

Most interestingly, two rare van Eycks will be seen side by side for the first time, as far as is known, since they were recorded in the will of one Anselme Adornes in 1470. Both are images of St Francis – one borrowed from Philadelphia, the other from Turin. Recent cleaning and restoration of the Italian painting has revealed the two St Francis figures to be strikingly similar. Much more so than was suggested by the over-painting, now removed. It is possible that the smaller may have been painted as a portable image to be taken on pilgrimage.

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