We actually don't know a lot about the life of Jan Van Eyck, but a discovery in the Vatican archives is at least a little help.
On 26 March 1441, six months before his death, Van Eyck sent a request to Pope Eugene IV. "Van Eyck asks for a letter to be sent to him, giving him the permission to have a confession session for wiping out his sins", historian Hendrik Callewier explains. Callewier (KU Leuven) made the discovery in the Vatican. Van Eyck sends the request on his behalf and his wife Margareta's.
The discovery is exceptional. "It's the first time we see a document that goes back to his lifetime that mentions Jan Van Eyck together with his wife Margareta", says Callewier.
Was Van Eyck born in Maaseik?
The document helps historians to further determine Van Eyck's place of birth. "There is not a single document from his time that mentions his place of birth. However, the request in the Vatican comes from the Liège diocese."
A number of possible places - about a dozen have been put forward - can be scrapped now as they don't belong to the Liège diocese. The most probable place of birth, Maaseik, remains an option, together with Bergeijk, Maastricht and Arendonk.
Unprecedented at that time
The request also tells us something about Van Eyck's mentality. "A painter making a request with the pope is something unprecedented in that era. Actually Van Eyck did as his clients: he is a craftsman trying to get the same privileges as the high society and the clerics of his time."
The 20 works that were attributed to Jan Van Eyck can all be admired online in high resolution. On the website Closer to Van Eyck, you can zoom in on the smallest details.