Hubert van Eyck: The Lost Brother

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John Haber muses on the Friedsam Annunciation in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Officially attributed to Petrus Christus, the painting has, in the past, been considered the work of the Hubert van Eyck, the mysterious brother of Jan van Eyck.

Haber writes that "among the twenty panels of the Ghent Altarpiece, Hubert usually gets credit for the ones with flatter figures and exaggerated perspective. Erwin Panofsky, a titan among art historians, attributed the Friedsam Annunciation to Hubert, and textbooks generally complied. Only one small problem: nothing can be assigned to him with certainty, not even a hand in the Ghent Altarpiece. Not a single other painting comes with his signature or clear documentary evidence in his favor, and consensus has slowly fallen away… I cannot say for sure who painted this, but its old-fashioned perspective captures precisely Mary's two-point choices, with the implication that she need not choose. So does the strange composition of walls within walls and gardens without gardens. Once one admits passage through one, anything can follow. Panofsky stresses the signs of 'unregenerate nature,' of 'the blind forces of growth and decay' from which the new order promises salvation. One should remember, though, whose advent in this tale has broken through the walls—or who in the cosmos might share the painting's strange point of view from above. Hubert himself might not have broken through to the Renaissance, but someone's gaze, at once a god's and a very human viewer's, is looking both ways at growth and decay."

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