How Van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece transformed art forever

The art of the low countries – modern-day Holland and Belgium – had a profound influence on western civilisation. Andrew Graham-Dixon explores the work of their most famous painter.

The art of the low countries has exerted an enormous force on the course of western culture. From the world of medieval Flanders to the glories of the Dutch Golden Age to the emergence of modern Holland and Belgium – it’s the art of an ‘Atlantis in Reverse’ – the land that rose from beneath the water to reach the pinnacle of civilisation.

The first painter to translate Flemish illumination onto a grand scale was Jan Van Eyck. His masterpiece – a radiant triptych known as the Ghent altarpiece – was completed in 1432.

In this clip, Andrew Graham-Dixon visits the work to explain how Van Eyck showed off his discovery: that by applying layers of oil paint he could create astonishing illusions of depth and light.

His pioneering techniques were taken up all over Europe, making him one of the most respected artists of his day – and changing the course of western art.

The High Art of the Low Countries is broadcast at 02:10 GMT and 15:10 GMT on Saturday 6 September, and 09:10 GMT and 21:10 GMT on Sunday 7 September on BBC World News.

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