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Jan Van Eyck and his wife reunited for Renaissance exhibition

Jan Van Eyck's self-portrait is one of the National Gallery's most familiar works. It shows a middle-aged man looking sternly out at the viewer. Now, after several centuries apart, the oil painting of the Renaissance painter is to be reunited with a portrait of his wife, Margaret.

The pair of portraits is one of the highlights in a major exhibition of Renaissance portraiture which opens at the National Gallery in London in October.

"Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian" will feature more than 70 masterpieces by the biggest names in 15th and 16th century art, including Raphael, Botticelli, Holbein, Dürer, Lotto, Pontormo and Bellini.

The exhibition, a version of which has just opened at the Prado in Madrid, aims to show how lifelike portraits began to be commissioned during the Renaissance to mark key moments in life – childhood, courtship and marriage, old age and death.

The self-portrait of Van Eyck is dated 1433, while the painting of his wife Margaret, on loan from the Groeningemuseum, Bruges, was painted six years later.

Susan Foister, director of collections at the National Gallery, said it was not unusual for someone to have one portrait painted and then add another to it at a later date. She said it was highly possible that Van Eyck intended them to be displayed together.

In the portraits, the painter and his wife are both wearing deep red – in the case of Margaret Van Eyck, a dress with a thick fur-lined collar, reflecting her husband's financial success.

Dr Foister said: "It's quite extraordinary to see them together. It adds another dimension to our portrait to see Van Eyck's wife beside it. He's wearing a red turban and she's wearing a red dress, so there's a sense of harmony, although there is no contact between them."