malraux: after the defeat of eternity

Andre Malraux wrote his Metamorphosis of the Gods over a half century ago, essentially showing how the spiritual in art was slowly transformd into the truncating and commodifying of eternity, idolatry, and the cult of celebrity and the man-centered universe we know today that defines the nakedness and desperation of exile between competing forces within the same soul…

…It is still not a question of complete realism. “Like the movie makers, these artists use only certain selected, isolated, controlled parts of a reality which is not yet the despotic model it will later become. …The Flemish primitives are realists like Kafka.” Painters of Van Eyck’s time and after do paint pictures that resemble actual scenes, but it is not that likeness we admire most, but the difference from the scenes they resemble. “The painters show their skill by the resemblance, their genius by the difference.”

—Van Eyck enjoyed considerable freedom in the service of the duke. He received a guaranteed income, and was allowed to accept commissions from other patrons. This gave him the freedom to innovate in his work. In the 16th century, the Italian art historian Giorgio Vasari credited Van Eyck with the invention of oil painting – incorrectly, since the technique was already long-established in Van Eyck’s lifetime.
The use of oil paint allowed Van Eyck to render minute details and use cumulative layers of fluid, transparent colored glazes. His experimentation lead to considerable advances in the technique of oil painting.
The Virgin and Child with Chancellor Rolin marks an important stage in Van Eyck’s artistic development, and Flemish painting as a whole.
Van Eyck’s works often feature prominent portraits of his patrons, as here and in the Virgin with Canon Van der Paele painted between 1434 and 1436. Their importance is sometimes diminished, however, by the presence of figures of patron saints.—Read More:

In Jan van Eyck’s “The Virgin and the Chancellor Rollin” the artist does not add the Virgin to a picture of the chancellor at home; he introduces the chancellor into a picture of the Virgin. “Our familiarity with fifteenth-century painting hides from us how really extraordinary is the world in which a contemporary of the painter kneels, in his own house or in a church that could be his own house, before a Virgin being crowned by angels, while peacocks walk in the lanes, and while two careless subsidiary characters watch the afternoon draw to a close over the town….But while this world is not Giotto’s, it is not the chancellor’s either: it is a world of painting. It is the heir of the Italian pictorial fiction-become independent of the place of worship…The chancellor and the Virgin meet in the world of painting, just as macbeth and the witches meet in the world of poetry.”

—Jan Van Eyck (Maaseick, circa 1390/1395 – Bruges 1441) Virgin and Child with Saints and Donor
1441-1443 Oil on panel H. : 47,31 cm; W. : 61,28 cm New York, The Frick Collection, 1954.1.161
© The Frick Collection, New York
The countless landscape details in the Virgin and Child with Chancellor Rolin pave the way for future depictions of the natural scene as a genre in its own right.
A number of works by Van Eyck reproduce the same compositional scheme as the Virgin and Child with Chancellor Rolin, notably St Luke Painting the Virgin, a copy of a work by Rogier van der Weyden, which is sometimes thought to be an original.—Read More:


Derek Allen:Fundamentally, therefore, art for Malraux, like the reality it addresses, has a metaphysical significance. Art creates a rival world that affirms man’s presence in the face of the vast indifference of the uncharted scheme of things’. At its deepest level, art does not exist simply for psychological or ideological purposes, such as providing an avenue for self-expression, communicating feelings, representing the world, affording ‘aesthetic pleasure’, providing a form of ‘cognition’, or interpreting social or political experience (to mention some familiar explanations). Art is a response to man’s incipient sense of insignificance in the face of a scheme of things in which his presence seems to count for nothing. Whether visual art, literature or music, art is, Malraux writes, one of the ways in which man ‘denies his nothingness’.

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