The Latin quatrain on the lower frames of the Ghent altarpiece was rediscovered by Gustav Waagen at the Königliches Museum in Berlin in 1823. At a period before the rise of archival research, it seemed to provide secure textual evidence for the work’s patron, date and authorship by Hubert and Jan van Eyck. Indeed, it defined the altarpiece as the earliest surviving dated work of early Netherlandish painting, reinforcing a long-standing perception that it represented the beginning of a new art. It was inevitable that the question of the quatrain’s authenticity would arise, initiating a debate that has continued to the present day. Addressing this debate from the point-of-view of the formal, visual and material aspects of the inscription, and considering its relationship to Jan van Eyck’s broader inscriptional practice, this talk considers the following questions: is the quatrain original, i.e. Eyckian? When was the present quatrain painted onto the frames of the altarpiece?
Susan Jones is currently Lecturer in Northern Renaissance at The Courtauld Institute. From 2014-16, worked at the KIK-IRPA (Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage) in Brussels on a collaborative documentation and research project on Jan van Eyck called theVERONA project. The technical and scientific images made for the project will be online later this year.