Single-Artist Seminar: Jan van Eyck (2018)

A course devoted entirely to the life and work of one important artist, selected anew from across the spectrum of world art each time it is offered. The seminar is designed to allow for an in-depth experience in the discipline of art history that extends well beyond what is possible in period survey courses. Recent topics: Leonardo; Rembrandt; Degas.

For Fall 2018

The Flemish Renaissance artist Jan van Eyck, traditionally credited with the invention of oil painting, created mystically realistic scenes with minute details, intense colors, and limpid clarity. Yet despite his renown, fundamental aspects of his work and career remain mysterious. In an essay published this Spring (with the help of my Fall class), I proposed new explanations of the sitters, subject, and significance—including the first modern artist’s signature—of Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Marriage Portrait. His earliest works are also presently unknown. The Ghent Altarpiece of 1432, the most ambitious painting of the late middle ages and early Renaissance, continues to be identified as an incoherent “mistake” in which Van Eyck’s role is unclear. This excuse for a lack of explanation has now been extended to the intriguing “New York Diptych.” The most extraordinary book illuminations of the Turin-Milan Hours, once assigned to the young Van Eyck, are now ignored. Our class, the Cooper Van Eyck Project (CVEP), will resolve these gaps by steeping ourselves in Van Eyck’s thirty odd paintings and by establishing the first painting-by-painting developmental catalogue of his oeuvre. This new method was inaugurated in my 2009 Vermeer book and is currently being pioneered in the Cooper Rembrandt Research Project (CRRP).


2 credits

Course Code: HTA 300

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.