This brilliant display of Jan van Eyck’s microscopic technique highlights his ability to create pictures that seem at once very sharp yet very far away. The artist meticulously depicted the moment during a forty-day fast in the wilderness when Francis of Assisi received the wounds of the crucified Christ, who is seen here held aloft by a seraph, or angel. Although Van Eyck positioned the scene in the rocky landscape of legend, he included a bustling Netherlandish city in distance, as if to suggest that the miracle is visible outside boundaries of time or geography.
The picture’s small size suggests that it was intended as a portable and personal object, one easily held in the hands and filled with details that reward close and repeated examination. The painting likely traveled in the artist’s lifetime or shortly thereafter, possibly on an early owner’s pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
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