Not far from the centre of Bruges is one of many small squares bordered by medieval buildings and a canal.
Overlooking the square is the statue of a painter, holding the tools of his trade while gazing thoughtfully into the distance.
This is Jan van Eyck, the most famous Flemish painter of the early 15th century. He lived in Bruges from 1425 until his death in 1441 and in that time he completed many beautiful works. One of his surviving paintings, Virgin and Child with Canon van der Paele dates from 1436 and is in the Flemish Primitives collection of the Groeninge Museum in Bruges.
It depicts the Virgin Mary with the infant Jesus, St Donatian on her left and St George on her right. Canon Joris van der Paele, shown kneeling devoutly in prayer, commissioned the painting to show his devotion to God and the Church.The richness of the colours and the finely worked details are testament to van Eyck’s mastery of painting in oils.
There is another way to learn about Jan van Eyck, his painting and the medieval city in which he lived. The Historium, in the Markt, is a tourist attraction with a difference.
Visitors become virtual time travellers as they experience medieval Bruges through a light and sound show created with digital special effects, film and music. The story itself, about an apprentice given the job of escorting the young woman who is to model as the Virgin Mary for van Eyck, is fictional; the painting and its cast of characters around whom the story is based are certainly real.
When in Bruges, visit both The Historium and the Groeninge Museum – the story of Jan van Eyck’s magnificent masterpiece is worth hearing twice.