Léal Souvenir

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Léal Souvenir, oil on oak, 33.3 cm × 18.9 cm. National Gallery, London

Léal Souvenir (also known as Timotheus or simply Portrait of a Man) is a small 1432 oil on oak posthumous portrait by the Early Netherlandish painter Jan van Eyck. The sitter has not been identified but given his individualistic features, the work is believed to be based on a historical person, rather than on a hypothetical ideal, as was unsual for the time.[1] It is noted for the enigmatic expression of the sitter, and the apparent contradictions in his appearance and expression. While his features have been described as "plain and rustic", he looks thoughtful and inward looking; a number of art historians have detected a mournfulness in his expression, which Erwin Panofsky describes as possibly "loneliness". The panel was acquired by the National Gallery, London in 1857 where it is on permanent display.[2]

The stone parapet at the base of the canvas contains three separate layers of inscriptions, each painted in an illusionistic manner to give the impression that they had been chiseled into stone.[3] The first is in Greek and reads "TγΜ.ωΟΕΟς", which has not been satisfactorily interpreted but used by some art historians to title the work Timotheu. The middle inscription contain the letters "Léal Souvenir" (Loyal Memory) indicating that the portrait was completed after the man's death and was probably intended as commemorative. The third records van Eyck's signature and the date of execution in an almost legalese manner, prompting some to think the man portrayed was involved in that profession.[4]

While the man has not been definitely identified, it appears he was a significant enough member of Duke of Burgundy prince Philip the Good's circle that his court painter would have portrayed him. The 19th-century art historian Hippolyte Fierens Gevaert identified the lettering "TγΜ.ωΟΕΟς" with Timotheus of Miletus, a musician from Greek antiquity. Erwin Panofsky drew the same conclusion, in the process eliminating other Greeks bearing the name Timothy, mostly on the basis that they were from a religious or military background, professions that do not match the dress of the sitter. Panofsky believed the man was probably a highly placed musician in Philip's court. More recent research focuses on the apparent legalese of the inscriptions, and favors the idea that the man was a legal adviser to Philip.[5]

The painting became widely copied, both directly and indirectly. Copper likeness can be found in Bergamo and Turin, while Petrus Christus borrowed the illusionistic carving on the parapet for his 1446 Portrait of a Carthusian.[6]


The panel is one of the earliest surviving examples of secular portraiture in late medieval European art. It is considered emblematic and perhaps the earliest extant example of the emerging style. The new approach to representation can be observed in several aspects, primarily in its realism and acute observation of the small details of the man's appearance. In this it marks the beginning of a new realism painters were able to achieve using oil as a medium. Oil allows a smooth translucent surface, and can be applied in a range of thicknesses. It can be manipulated while still wet, allowing the artist to include subtle detail[7] as well as differentiation between degrees of reflective light, from shadow to bright beams[8] and minute depictions of light effects through use of transparent glazes.[9]

Tombstone of C. Vetienus Urbiqus. Musiem Nationale, St.-Germain-en-Laye. The three-quarters pose, parapet and positioning of the document were most likely borrowed from Roman sculpture.[3]

The heavily inscribed parapet is painted as if to simulate marked or scarred stone. The motif is influenced by classical Roman funerary art, particularly the stone memorials. The parapet serves a number of functions, chiefly that its gives a sense of gravity to the posthumous portrait, with the illusion of chips and cracks in the stone conveying a sense of the venerable, or as Elisabeth Dhanens describes it, a sense of the "fragility of life or of memory itself". In addition, it serves as the platform for the inscriptions, giving him an ideal opportunity to display his skill at mimicking stone chiseling.[3] Millard Meiss notes its size compared to the portrait, and given that the work is[10] only the second of van Eyck's known portraits, speculates if this is due to inexperience and poor design. She wonders if he didn't "lose control of [the] design as a whole by indulging his astounding virtuosity."[11] The panel's ground seems to be of chalk. Infra-red photography shows traces of short vertical hatching, and underdrawings of the face, arms and hands, which were repositioned in the final painting - originally the fingers were shorter, his right thumb was raised and the parapet was lower. Analysis of the pigment shows that the flesh of his face is painted with whites and vermilion, and traced with greys, blacks, blues and some ultramarines over a red-lake glaze.[12]

The panel consists of a single 8mm vertically cut oak board, which is today cut down close to the painted surface, with a small area unpainted at the upper left. The support's encasing was probably changed in the 19th century; today it consists of eight wood supports, four of which act as inner mouldings fixed to the edges of the interior borders. The other four act as inner pins.[12]


The man is framed within an undefined narrow space and set against a flat black background. Typically for van Eyck, the head is a little large in relation to the torso. He is dressed in typically Burgundian fashion; a red robe and a green wool chaperon with a bourrelet and cornette hanging forward. His headdress is trimmed with fur, fastened with two buttons, and extends to the parapet on which his arm seem to rest.[13] His right hand might be holding the end of the cornette.[12] Neither the shape of his head nor his facial features correspond to contemporary standard types, let alone cannons of ideal beauty, indicating that the work is a private commission. He appears to be bald, although there are some faint traces of fair hair, leading Erwin Panofsky to observe that his "countenance is as 'Nordic' as his dress is Burgundian."[14] He does not have eyebrows or stubble and it is believed the eyelashes were added by a 19th-century restorer.[12] van Eyck's close observation of the man's narrow shoulders, pursed lips and thin eyebrows extends to the detailing of moisture on his blue eyes.[13] He holds a scroll that might be a legal document, letter or pamphlet. In his early portraits, van Eyck's sitters are often shown holding objects indicative of their profession.[15]

The light falls on the left hand side of the man's face leaving traces of shadow on his left side, a device commonly found in van Eyck's early portraits.[16] The man has a youthful appearance, and his face is given a soft, fleshiness, achieved through shallow curves and flowing harmonious brushstrokes which give the appearance of a relaxed, warm and open personality, which Meiss describes as evoking an almost "Rembrandtesque warmth and sympathy."[16] The man is not handsome; he has a flattish face, stubby yet pointed nose and cheekbones that might, according to Panofsky, belong to a younger "Flemish peasant."[17] Dhanens describes him as having a "snub" nose, "prominent" cheek bones, and an honest expression.[18]

Portrait of Baudouin de Lannoy, c.1435. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemaldegalerie, Berlin. van Eyck's early portraits typically show the sitter holding an emblem of his profession and class. In this stern portrait, de Lannoy, governor of Lille and a Knight of the Golden Fleece, holds a baton.

A number of art historians have noted the apparent contradictions in the man's facial features and enigmatic expression. Meiss describes his features as "plain and rustic", and finds resemblance between the man's generic face and a number of figures in the lower portions of the "Adoration of the Lamb" panel in the Ghent Altarpiece.[19] Yet he concedes to Panofsky's view of a "thoughtfulness on the high, wrinkled forehead, visionary force in the dreamy yet steady eyes, [and] a formidable strength of passion in the wide, firm mouth." In Panofsky's view, the man's face is not that of an intellectual, yet he detects a pensive and loneliness nature, "the face of one who feels and produces rather than observes and dissects."[17]

Unlike van Eyck's contemporary Rogier van der Weyden, who pays especially close attention to detail in the rendering of his model's fingers, to van Eyck hands were often something of an after thought.[20] Here the hands are generically drawn; they may have been a later addition by van Eyck or a member of his workshop; they are noticeably similar to those of the sitter in his c 1435 Portrait of Baudouin de Lannoy. From the document prominently held in his hands, the sitter may have been a legal professional, or less likely, the portrait was emblematic of a specific legal deed.[21] In either case, although he is not grandly dressed and is probably a member of the middle class, he must have been active in Philip's court, given that at the time in the Burgundian lands, portraits only rarely depicted non-nobles.[16]


The stone parapet has three horizontal layers of inscription, with the smaller top and lower lettering often not visible in reproductions. In places the meaning of the Greek characters is unclear, and has been widely speculated on by art historians, not least due to van Eycks' somewhat erratic spelling and unusual spacing habits. However Panofsky points out that many of the errors seemingly apparent in the work were often seen even in Byzantine script, which most likely was his source, and in instances there are no definitive formations of characters for some of the constructs he seems to be using.[3] The top lettering is in chalk white, and contains the Greek script "TγΜ.ωΟΕΟς", which was interpreted in 1857 by Charles Eastlake as "Timotheos". The letters after the punctuation are generally accepted as representing 'THEOS', the Greek name for God. The "o" before the lettering probably indicates the past tense; put together the inscription may read "Timotheus, Then God". The much larger middle inscription is written in French and uses a script dated to the 12th century. It reads "LÉAL SOVVENIR" (Loyal Remembrance, or Faithful Souvenir),[21][22] and is painted in such a manner as to give the impression that it was carved into the parapet.[5]

Composer Guillaume Dufay (left) and Gilles Binchois (right), Martin le Franc, "Champion des Dames".

From these two inscriptions the panel is generally accepted as being a posthumous portrait. Art historian Susan Jones notes that Roman tombstones often showed a representation of the deceased behind a parapet with a carved inscription, and that van Eyck may have known of these from travels to France.[1] The lower inscription reads "Actu[m] an[n]o d[omi]ni.1432.10.die ocobris.a.ioh[anne] de Eyck" (These are done in the year of our Lord 1432 on the 10th day of October by Jan van Eyck).[21] Art historian Lorne Campbell has observed that the phrasing of this extended signature is surprisingly reminiscent of legalese, with van Eyck almost as reinforcing the idea that the man was a legal professional.[23]

Identity of the sitter[edit]

Eastlake's translation of the word "Timotheos" is generally accepted, and though to represent a proper name. That it might be a variant of "Timothy" is usually discounted as it was not used in Northern Europe before the Reformation; while there is no Germanic name which might, given the lettering in which it inscribed, a humanistic imitation of a Greek word.[24] Thus art historians have sought to identify the man from Greek history or legend. Athenian and Syrian generals have been discounted as the sitter is not dressed in military clothing.[14] Saint Timothy, the first Bishop of Ephesus and fellow traveller with Saint Paul has been eliminated as the sitter is not dressed as a high cleric.[14]

Erwin Panofsky believes the wording refers to Timotheus of Miletus, a Greek musician and dithyrambic poet. From this he speculates that the sitter may be the celebrated musician Gilles Binchois, although Campbell is skeptical and notes the sitter "is not dressed as a cleric".[25]


The work is not particularly well preserved. There is a yellowish layer of glaze over the face, which in probability was a later addition. Over time, the varnishes have become degraded and lost their original colors, while the panel has undergone a number of minor retouchings. In some instances these have altered the man's appearance, such as the partial removal of the traces of fair hair from beneath his hat. The panel has sustained damage, especially to the marble on the reverse. The London National Gallery repaired some "slight injuries" when it came into their possession in 1857. Campbell notes a number of efforts by later restorers that he views as imperfect and "rather disfiguring", including work on the man's nostrils, eyelashes and the tip of his nose.[12]


Like many of van Eyck's works, and those of the Early Netherlandish painters in general, the painting's provenance is murky before the 19th century, when the form, unfashionable for so long, underwent reappraisal. Ink markings on the reverse detail a crosslet over a pair of horizontal bars possibly recording a merchant's or previous owner's mark or emblem; however it is incomplete and no identification has been made. It is known that the painting was in the possession of the Scottish landscape painter Karl Ross (1816–58) before 1854. It was acquired by the London National Gallery in 1857. Two near contemporary copies were recorded in 1857 as the National Gallery were verifying the works attribution—both are now lost. The first was on copper, but an exact replica otherwise, and was found by NG collector and later director Charles Eastlake in the collection of the Lochis family of Bergamo in Italy. Another copy was located in Turin, belonging to a Count Castellane Harrach, also on copper and described as smaller than the original, "very weak".[12]



  1. ^ a b Smith, 42
  2. ^ "Portrait of a Man ('Léal Souvenir')". National Gallery. Retrieved 20 April 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d Panofsky, 80
  4. ^ Bauman, 37
  5. ^ a b Wood, 650
  6. ^ "Jan van Eyck". Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 20 April 2013.
  7. ^ Smith, 61
  8. ^ Jones, 10–11
  9. ^ Borchert, 22
  10. ^ Apart from the dual portraits of the donors in his Ghent Altarpiece which were probably completed in 1431 or in the early months of the following year.
  11. ^ Meiss, 138
  12. ^ a b c d e f Campbell, 218
  13. ^ a b Kemperdick, 19
  14. ^ a b c Panofsky, 82
  15. ^ Pächt, 110
  16. ^ a b c Meiss, 137
  17. ^ a b Panofsky, 88
  18. ^ Dhanens, 182
  19. ^ Meiss, 144
  20. ^ Kemperdick notes that Hans Holbein the Younger "used the same pair of hands for many of his portraits, so that they look much the same on 70-year-old William Warham and Anne Lovell, forty years his junior." Kemperdick, 20
  21. ^ a b c Borchert, 36
  22. ^ Bauman, 35
  23. ^ Campbell, 222
  24. ^ Panofsky, 81
  25. ^ Campbell, 220


  • Bauman, Guy. "Early Flemish Portraits 1425–1525". The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, Volume 43, no. 4, Spring, 1986.
  • Borchert, Till-Holger. Van Eyck. London: Taschen, 2008. ISBN 3-8228-5687-8
  • Campbell, Lorne. The Fifteenth-Century Netherlandish Paintings. London, National Gallery. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-300-07701-7
  • Dhanens, Elisabeth. Hubert and Jan van Eyck. New York: Tabard Press. 1980, ISBN 0-914427-00-8
  • Jones, Susan Frances. Van Eyck to Gossaert. National Gallery, 2011. ISBN 978-1-85709-504-3
  • Kemperdick, Stephan. The Early Portrait, from the Collection of the Prince of Liechtenstein and the Kunstmuseum Basel. Munich: Prestel, 2006. ISBN 3-7913-3598-7
  • Meiss, Millard. "'Nicholas Albergati' and the Chronology of Jan van Eyck's Portraits". The Burlington Magazine, Volume 94, No. 590, May, 1952.
  • Pächt, Otto. Van Eyck and the Founders of Early Netherlandish Painting. 1999. London: Harvey Miller Publishers. ISBN 1-872501-28-1
  • Panofsky, Erwin. "Who Is Jan van Eyck's 'Tymotheos'?". Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Volume 12, 1949.
  • Smith, Jeffrey Chipps. The Northern Renaissance. London: Phaidon Press, 2004. ISBN 0-7148-3867-5
  • Wood, Wendy. "A new identification of the sitter in Jan van Eyck's Timotheus portrait". The Art Bulletin, Volume 60, No. 4, December 1978.

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