BETWEEN GLAZING AND DETAIL EXALTATION
Ever since the dawn of civilization, the artistic representation of nature has had almost exclusively symbolic and decorative value.
Only during the seventeenth century, following the slow disappearance of devotional painting and the specialization of art ateliers, natural scenery gained its autonomy. The newfound independent genre included several categories such as: landscape, architecture, marina, city view, still life, flower, etc.
“Great fortune awaits it, and it will have a profound impact on European pictorial representations over centuries to come.”
While in Tuscany the deeply innovative art that we call Renaissance is being developed, in the Flanders (much of the present Belgium and the Netherlands), Flemish art is born. Great fortune awaits it, and it will have a profound impact on European pictorial representations over centuries to come.
Oil painting and glazing
Tradition has it that Flemish painters and in particular Jan Van Eyck were the inventors of oil painting. As a matter of fact, the use of essential oils as pigment vectors was already known in ancient times, and – albeit limited – used in the Middle Ages as well.
What novelty was indeed introduced by Flemish painters in this respect is one of the still unresolved questions of the art history devoted to the study of those years.
In any case, the true Flemish revolution consisted not so much in the colors composition, but rather in their setting. These painters, in fact, perfected and brought to excellence the glazing technique.
What exactly is glazing? Placing colors on a canvas (or a metal plate, wood or other), basically consists in laying a film over the starting surface, giving it the color the artist wishes to represent. Some pictorial techniques provide a film that covers the surface completely even at the first brushstroke, while others opt for a semi-transparent layer.
In the latter case, the brush stroke is defined glazing. By means of glazing, the painter can create shades in a very precise and accurate way and obtain a really wide range of colors. By overlapping several glazings, in fact, he can gradually reach the tone he prefers. The only drawback – if it is such – lies in the laborious and slow work.
Attention to detail
Oil painting with the glazing technique is surely one of the strengths of Flemish painting, but certainly not the only one.
Stylistic innovations add to the technical novelty, specifically the precision in the subtle description of particulars and the representation of the light.
As far as attention to detail is concerned, Flemish painting is not far from the late Gothic style.
Both are extremely analytical paintings: every single element is studied with precision and fully illustrated.
Moreover, thanks to the use of oil painting and glazing, the representation of details is exaggerated to the limit of the technical possibilities.
“By means of glazing, the painter can create shades in a very precise and accurate way and obtain a really wide range of colors.”
The main figures in Flemish painting
In the vast array of exquisite artists of the seventeenth century, among the heirs of Jan Van Eyck, creator of this new pictorial vision together with Han Memling and Van Der Weyden, we can list:
Meindert Hobbma, Jan Brueghel, Lucas Van Uden, Ignatius Van Der Stock, Adrien Boudewyns, Jaques Backereel.
Adrien Van Utrecht, Franz Snyders, David De Cronick, Cornelius De Heem, Jan Roos.
Adriens Van Eertvelt.
Daniel Seghers, Jan Breughel, Ambrosius Breughel, Nicolaes Van Verendael, Pieter Van Avon.