The Master Painter

Edwin Mullins, Author, Edwin B. Mullins, Author Doubleday Books $19.95 (0p) ISBN 978-0-385-24371-1
The prose is stiff, and the minutely detailed descriptions (worthy of a Jan van Eyck painting) threaten to overwhelm the narrative. These caveats notwithstanding, British medievalist, journalist, art critic and novelist Mullins's account of the stormy life and times of a 15th century Flemish painter offers arresting glimpses of a medieval world fraught with clamor and color. We see Jan van Eyck as a man of restless ambition beneath his quiet demeanor, an artist reaching out to embrace all of God's material creation. Though Van Eyck's idealistic faith in his employer, Philip, Duke of Burgundy, seems too naive, and his on-again, off-again romance with timid Margarethe is patly drawn, Mullins indelibly portrays others in the large cast of characters: Philip, ever on the run to his wars and mistresses; his benumbed wife Isabella, who feels ``prematurely widowed''; and viper-tongued duchess Jacqueline of Hainault, betrayed by two husbands, deprived of her rightful lands. Just as believable are Joan of Arc, defiant in captivity, and Italian merchant Giovanni Arnolfini (immortalized in Van Eyck's tender marriage portrait), seen here as a sallow cynic ``with reptilian smile,'' planning his nuptials as he would a business deal. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 02/27/1989
Release date: 03/01/1989
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