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Saint Barbara

Jan van Eyck
18 cm x 31 cm
Inventory number: 
Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp
Category A: Flemish primitives
15th century Saints
Religious scenes

Barbara was the only daughter of a Syrian nobleman, who was locked up in a tower so that nobody could see her. When her father wanted to marry her off, she resisted herself. In order to convince her, she was granted permission to leave the tower every now and then. As a result, Barbara converted herself to Christianity. Her father was furious, but she refused to abandon her faith. She was tortured, but during the night, her wounds were miraculously healed. Consequently, her father had her beheaded, but after this deed, the earth began to shake and he was struck down by lightning.
In the work, Barbara is leafing through a prayer book. She holds a palm branch in her left hand. She wears a copious garment with broad pleats. Behind rises a gothic tower, around which swirl numerous small figures.
Some view this work as a grisaille, or as an independent drawing. Karel Van Mander wrote in his Schilder-boeck (Book of Painting) that it is an underdrawing. Only the part in the air is coloured in. This work is the oldest incomplete surviving panel in the painting art of the Low Countries.