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Arth 102 Paper 1- Madonna of Jan Vos

Arth 102 Paper 1- Madonna of Jan Vos

Madonna of Jan Vos

It is also called Virgin and child, with saints and Donor. It is an oil panel painting that was begun by Jan Van Eyck, an artist from Netherland. He died before completing the work. Thus his panel had to finish the painting, but it was referred as Eyck’s work. It is believed that he designed and painted the central Madonna and the child while the others; the saints and the donor were painted by someone from the workshop. Although the painting was done by different people, it did not miss the meaning and the intended message the founder and the original artist intended to bring. All the contents have a meaning and represent a given character in the early days of religion (Harbison and Craig, 1997).

The figure in the painting is believed to be; the lady standing is believed to be Mary who is a mother to the child she is holding and the child being held is believed to be Jesus Christ. The saint standing beside her is Saint Barbara and the other one wearing nun clothing is believed to be Saint Elizabeth of Hungary. The person represented as a monk kneeling for prayer is believed to be Jan Van who is the donor, the original mind behind the painting. With the presence of Jan Von in the painting, the original meaning is somehow distorted (Ridderbos, et al, 2005).

From my thinking, I doubt if Jan Von had intended to put his image there. From the reading of the painting, before he died, it is said that he designed the painting and painted the Madonna and the child. In my opinion, I believe that was his initial intention. To paint the Madonna and the child exception of his image. Also had he placed a person there as a sign of someone praying there, I do not think if he could have thought of placing a monk there but rather place a person maybe a woman.

I believe a woman would have been better for the place of the monk. Women are known for being mothers and love to have children the most. The painter could have painted a woman figure so that the paint can indicate a woman is praying for a child. With a man figure, one cannot predict what the monk is praying for. Also, the painter could have elevated the surface the image of the virgin and the child are standing on so that it is seen as if it is an altar. I believe people pray at the altar thus the elevation could have made the place with the image look like an altar. With the design, we could have easily interpreted the painting to be a religious one indicating someone praying for a child at the altar.

I think the person who completed the work made a combination of all the work done earlier by Jan Van workshop. There is a painting called virgin and the child, Saint Barbara and Exeter Madonna, which I believe the person who completed the Madonna of Jan Vos borrowed content from to complete the painting started by Jan Van. The three works have the same content as the painting has thus I strongly believe they are what was borrowed to complete the painting. This I believe was not a good idea concerning the intended painting by the original designer.

I think work done by two different people has advantages and disadvantages. Like the picture in question has pros and cons of being done by different artists. The first disadvantage being a loss of the original meaning intended to be passed across. We can see that Jan Van had designed the Madonna and the child alone and painted them before his death, but the person who completed has introduced other figures like monk which we are not sure if it was to be there. However, I think it was advantageous because new ideas are brought in to increase the content and quality of the piece. Like in the painting, the person who finished introduced a monk figure praying which makes one believe that the painting was intended to direct people on where to pray and ask for something they need. We can interpret the painting as the monk praying for a child being held by the Madonna. Therefore, I believe when a piece of artwork is done by two different artists, the quality is improved but the meaning is tampered with.

In conclusion, the painting was a unique one being done by two painters and combining work from three different paintings done by the same person. I believe the intended meaning was passed across although it may have undergone some alteration. I also believe the painting was a good and worth completion. However, I think it could have been great had they left it to have the content painted by an original painter.


Harbison, Craig. Jan van Eyck: the play of realism. London: Reaktion Books, 1997.

Ridderbos, et al. Early Netherlandish Paintings: Rediscovery, Reception and Research. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2005.

Ward, John. "Disguised Symbolism as Enactive Symbolism in Van Eyck's Paintings". Artibus et Historiae, Volume 15, No. 29, 1994

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