Arnolfini Portrait  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Related e

Google
Wikipedia
Wiktionary
Wiki Commons
Wikiquote
Wikisource
YouTube
Shop


Featured:
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Enlarge
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Arnolfini Portrait is a painting in oils on oak panel executed in 1434 by Jan van Eyck, a master of Early Netherlandish painting. Among other titles, it is also known as "The Arnolfini Wedding", "The Arnolfini Marriage", "The Arnolfini Double Portrait" or the "Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife".

This painting is believed to be a portrait of Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini and his wife in a room, presumably in their home in the Flemish city of Bruges. It is considered one of the most original and complex paintings in Western art history. Being both signed and dated by Van Eyck in 1434, it is, with the Ghent Altarpiece by the same artist and his brother Hubert, the oldest very famous panel painting to have been executed in oils rather than in tempera. The painting was bought by the National Gallery in London in 1842.

Description

The painting is generally in very good condition, though with small losses of original paint and damages, which have mostly been retouched. Infrared reflectograms of the painting show many small alterations, or pentimenti, in the underdrawing: to both faces, to the mirror, and to other elements. The couple are shown in an upstairs room with a chest and a bed in it during early summer as indicated by the fruit on the cherry tree outside the window. The room probably functioned as a reception room, as it was the fashion in France and Burgundy where beds in reception rooms were used as seating, except, for example, when a mother with a new baby received visitors. The window has six interior wooden shutters, but only the top opening has glass, with clear bulls-eye pieces set in blue, red and green stained glass.

The two figures are very richly dressed; despite the season both their outer garments, his tabard and her dress, are trimmed and fully lined with fur. The furs may be the especially expensive sable for him and ermine or miniver for her. He wears a hat of plaited straw dyed black, as often worn in the summer at the time. His tabard was more purple than it appears now (as the pigments have faded over time) and may be intended to be silk velvet (another very expensive item). Underneath he wears a doublet of patterned material, probably silk damask. Her dress has elaborate dagging (cloth folded and sewn together, then cut and frayed decoratively) on the sleeves, and a long train. Her blue underdress is also trimmed with white fur.

Although the woman's plain gold necklace and the rings that both wear are the only jewellery visible, both outfits would have been enormously expensive, and appreciated as such by a contemporary viewer. There may be an element of restraint in their clothes (especially the man) befitting their merchant status – portraits of aristocrats tend to show gold chains and more decorated cloth, although "the restrained colours of the man's clothing correspond to those favoured by Duke Phillip of Burgundy".

The interior of the room has other signs of wealth; the brass chandelier is large and elaborate by contemporary standards, and would have been very expensive. It would probably have had a mechanism with pulley and chains above, to lower it for managing the candles (possibly omitted from the painting for lack of room). The convex mirror at the back, in a wooden frame with scenes of The Passion painted behind glass, is shown larger than such mirrors could actually be made at this date – another discreet departure from realism by van Eyck. There is also no sign of a fireplace (including in the mirror), nor anywhere obvious to put one. Even the oranges casually placed to the left are a sign of wealth; they were very expensive in Burgundy, and may have been one of the items dealt in by Arnolfini. Further signs of luxury are the elaborate bed-hangings and the carvings on the chair and bench against the back wall (to the right, partly hidden by the bed), also the small Oriental carpet on the floor by the bed; many owners of such expensive objects placed them on tables, as they still do in the Netherlands.

The view in the mirror shows two figures just inside the door that the couple are facing. The second figure, wearing red, is presumably the artist although, unlike Velázquez in Las Meninas, he does not seem to be painting. Scholars have made this assumption based on the appearance of figures wearing red head-dresses in some other van Eyck works (e.g., the Portrait of a Man (Self Portrait?) and the figure in the background of the Madonna with Chancellor Rolin). The dog is an early form of the breed now known as the Brussels griffon.

The painting is signed, inscribed and dated on the wall above the mirror: "Johannes de eyck fuit hic 1434" ("Jan van Eyck was here 1434"). The inscription looks as if it were painted in large letters on the wall, as was done with proverbs and other phrases at this period. Other surviving van Eyck signatures are painted in trompe l'oeil on the wooden frame of his paintings, so that they appear to have been carved in the wood.

Mirror[1]

The small medallions set into the frame of the convex mirror at the back of the room show tiny scenes from the Passion of Christ and may represent God's promise of salvation for the figures reflected on the mirror's convex surface. Furthering the Memorial theory, all the scenes on the wife's side are of Christ's death and resurrection. Those on the husband's side concern Christ's life. The mirror itself may represent the eye of God observing the vows of the wedding. A spotless mirror was also an established symbol of Mary, referring to the Holy Virgin's immaculate conception and purity. The mirror reflects two figures in the doorway, one of whom may be the painter himself. In Panofsky's controversial view, the figures are shown to prove that the two witnesses required to make a wedding legal were present, and Van Eyck's signature on the wall acts as some form of actual documentation of an event at which he was himself present.

According to one author "The painting is often referenced for its immaculate depiction of non-Euclidean geometry", referring to the image on the convex mirror. Assuming a spherical mirror, the distortion has been correctly portrayed, except for the leftmost part of the window frame, the near edge of the table and the hem of the dress.

See also

  • Fuit hic, Johannes de eyck fuit hic 1434 (Jan van Eyck was here. 1434). [2]




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Arnolfini Portrait" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools