Isabella Borluut (Ghent Altarpiece) Jan van Eyck Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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This narrow panel is a portrait of Isabella Borluut as featured within the epic Ghent Altarpiece which remains amongst Jan van Eyck's finest artistic achievements. This extraordinary individual, who also served as a diplomat, helped to push the boundaries of oil painting with several new innovations.

The altarpiece itself was such a huge undertaking that many refer to each of the panels individually, and after all they are essentially genuine artworks in their own right which have then been arranged together to form this large triptych. There are normally the central artworks and then narrower items such as this which are connected to the sides through a series of simple hinges. This then allows the overall piece to be opened and closed, meaning some parts of the panels need to have artworks on both sides, to allow for these different positions. In terms of the Ghent Altarpiece, this portrait of Isabella Borluut sits on the outside, in the bottom right. On the opposing wing you will find a portrait of Donor and St John the Baptist.

She is pictured kneeling in pray. Her facial expression is serious, her outfit smart and elegant. She appears middle aged and would no doubt be very well connected in order for the artist to feature her within such an important artwork. This piece remains with the rest of the ensemble within the St Bavo Cathedral in Ghent, Belgium. Isabella, sometimes known as Lysbette Borluut, was the wife of Jodocus Vijd, the man across from her in the altarpiece who actually was behind the commissioning of this project. He would likely have requested her appearance alongside his own as a gesture of love and respect. The two hoped to be remembered by future generations as a result of this Van Eyck work and they lived for around another decade after it had been completed.

Besides the portrait itself, another interesting element to this painting would be the painted architectural features which was one of the trademarks of Van Eyck's work. He almost bridged the gap between architecture and the visual arts, creating lifelike depictions of buildings in a way that had not been seen before. He did similar with some frames of his paintings that were actually painted on as if three dimensional, confusing and tricking many into thinking they were genuine wooden frames. He would also use the opportunity to leave behind lettering upon these additions, sometimes using his own motto which served also as his signature in a number of pieces.