Van Eyck’s Madonna at the Fountain shows the Virgin Mary in a lush, flowering garden. Dressed in a long blue robe, she gazes lovingly at Jesus, whom she holds in her arms and tenderly presses against herself. The painting might not be large, but it is packed with symbolism. The flowers and the fountain, for instance, were not chosen by chance.

Eye for detail

Anyone who examines the painting closely will be amazed by all the perfectly executed details it contains. From angels with brightly-coloured wings to a cloth of honour woven in gold brocade with floral and animal motifs: Van Eyck painted them all flawlessly. The precision of the water spouting from the bronze fountain and of the multitude of flowers is no less astonishing.

Original frame with authentic inscription

Another striking feature of the painting is that it still has its original frame, which was partially cut from the same piece of oak as the panel, and then painted in imitation pink and grey marble. The artist inscribed it with his motto: ALS IXH XAN – literally ‘as I can’ and figuratively ‘to the best of my ability’. It expresses the modesty of the medieval artist towards the work of art. Below the motto, the frame is signed in Latin with the words ‘Jan van Eyck made and completed me in the year 1439’.

Madonna at the Fountain acts as a point of reference within Van Eyck’s oeuvre: thanks to the authentic inscription, there can be no doubt as to the author or the year of its execution. It is also the final dated and signed autograph work by the master that we know of: Van Eyck painted it two years before his death.

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