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Jan van Eyck (about 1395-1441)  Arnolfini Portrait  Oil on panel, 1434  82.2 x 60 cm  National Gallery, London, UK
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Title: Arnolfini Portrait
Description:
Jan van Eyck (about 1395-1441)
Arnolfini Portrait
Oil on panel, 1434
82.2 x 60 cm
National Gallery, London, UK

The Arnolfini Portrait is a painting in oils on oak panel uted 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 uted in oils rather than in tempera. The painting was bought by the National Gallery in London in 1842.

The illusionism of the painting was remarkable for its time, in part for the rendering of detail, but particularly for the use of light to evoke space in an interior, for "its utterly convincing depiction of a room, as well of the people who inhabit it".

Artist David Hockney and physicist Charles M. Falco theorise that Van Eyck made use of optical devices such as camera obscura to create at least part of the painting in what has become known as the HockneyFalco thesis.
This painting was long believed to be a portrait of Giovanni di Arrigo Arnolfini and his wife Giovanna Cenami in a Flemish bedchamber, but it was established in 1997 that they were married in 1447, thirteen years after the date on the painting and six years after van Eyck's death. It is now believed that the subject is Giovanni di Arrigo's cousin Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini and his wife. This is either an undocumented second wife, or, according to a recent proposal, his first wife Costanza Trenta, who had died by February 1433. This would make the painting partly a memorial portrait, showing one living and one dead person. Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini was an Italian merchant, originally from Lucca, but resident in Bruges since at least 1419. He is the subject of a further portrait by Van Eyck in Berlin, leading to speculation he was a friend of the artist.
The painting[5] is generally in very good condition, though with small losses of original paint and damages, which have mostly been retouched. Infra-red 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 in summer as indicated by the cherry tree outside the window which is in fruit. The room is in fact not a bedroom, as usually assumed, but a reception room as it was the fashion in France and Burgundy to have beds in reception rooms that were normally used just 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 once rather more purple than it appears now, as the pigments have faded; it may be intended to be silk velvet (another very expensive element). 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 plain rings both wear are the only jewellery visible, both outfits would have been enormously expensive, and appreciated as such by a contemporary viewer. But especially in the case of the man, there may be an element of restraint in their clothes befitting their merchant status - portraits of aristocrats tend to show gold chains and more decorated cloth.
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 also have had a mechanism with pulley and chains above, to lower it for managing the candles. Van Eyck has probably omitted this 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, which are probably held up by iron rods suspended from the ceiling, and the carvings on the chair and bench against the back wall (to the right, partly hidden by the bed). Another sign of wealth is 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 male figures just inside the door that the couple are facing. The one in front, wearing blue, is presumably the artist although, unlike Velázquez in Las Meninas, he does not seem to be painting. The dog is an early form of the breed now known as the Brussels griffon.

The painting is also 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.
In 1934 Erwin Panofsky published an article entitled Jan van Eyck's 'Arnolfini' Wedding in the Burlington Magazine, arguing that the elaborate signature on the back wall, and other factors, showed that it was painted as a legal document recording a marriage.

Since then, there has been considerable debate on this point. Art historian Edwin Hall considers that the painting depicts a betrothal, not a marriage. Art historian Margaret D. Carroll argues that the painting is a business contract between the husband and wife in her 1993 article In the Name of God and Profit: Jan van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait.

Lorne Campbell in the National Gallery Catalogue sees no need to find a special meaning in the painting beyond that of a double portrait, very possibly made to commemorate the marriage, but not a legal record. He cites examples of miniatures from manuscripts showing similarly elaborate inscriptions on walls as a normal form of decoration at the time. Another portrait in the National Gallery by Van Eyck, Portrait of a Man (Leal Souvenir), has a legalistic form of signature.

Margaret Koster's new suggestion, discussed above and below, that the portrait is a memorial one, of a wife already dead for a year or so, would displace these theories.

Art historian Maximiliaan Martens has suggested that the painting was meant as a gift for the Arnolfini family in Italy. It had the purpose of showing the prosperity and wealth of the couple depicted.[citation needed] He feels this might explain oddities in the painting, for example why the couple are standing in typical winter clothing while a cherry tree is in fruit outside, and why the phrase "Johannes de eyck fuit hic 1434" is featured so large in the centre of the painting.
Van Eyck created a painting with an almost reflective surface by applying layer after layer of translucent thin glazes. The intense glowing colours also help to highlight the realism, and to show the material wealth and opulence of Arnolfini's world. Van Eyck took advantage of the longer drying time, compared to tempera, of oil paint to blend colours by painting wet-in-wet to achieve subtle variations in light and shade to heighten the illusion of three-dimensional forms. He carefully distinguished textures and captured surface appearance precisely. He also rendered effects of both direct and diffuse light by showing the light from the window on the left reflected by various surfaces. It has been suggested that he used a magnifying glass in order to paint the minute details such as the individual highlights on each of the amber beads hanging beside the mirror.
The placement of the two figures suggests conventional 15th century views of marriage and gender roles the woman stands near the bed and well into the room, symbolic of her role as the caretaker of the house, whereas Giovanni stands near the open window, symbolic of his role in the outside world. Giovanni looks directly out at the viewer, his wife gazes obediently at her husband. His hand is vertically raised, representing his commanding position of authority, whilst she has her hand in a lower, horizontal, more submissive pose.
Although many modern viewers assume the wife to be pregnant, this is not believed to be so. Art historians point to numerous paintings of female saints similarly dressed, and believe that this look was fashionable for women's dresses at the time.
The cherries on the tree outside the window may symbolise love. The oranges which lie on the window sill and chest may symbolize the purity and innocence that reigned in the Garden of Eden before the Fall of Man.They were uncommon and a sign of wealth in the Netherlands, but in Italy were a symbol of fecundity in marriage.
The cast-aside patten clogs are possibly a gesture of respect for the wedding ceremony and also indicate that this event is taking place on holy ground, although these were normally only worn outside. Husbands traditionally presented brides with clogs. It can also be seen as indicative of domestic stability and tranquility.
The little dog symbolizes loyalty, or can be seen as an emblem of lust, signifying the couple's desire to have a child.
The green of the woman's dress symbolises hope, possibly the hope of becoming a mother. Her white cap signifies purity.
Behind the pair, the curtains of the marriage bed have been opened; the red curtains might allude to the physical act of love between the married couple.
The single candle in the left rear holder of the ornate seven-branched chandelier is possibly the candle used in traditional Flemish marriage customs. Lit in full daylight, like the sanctuary lamp in a church, the candle may allude to the presence of the Holy Ghost or the ever-present eye of God.
Alternatively, in Margaret Koster's theory that the painting is a memorial portrait, the single lit candle on Giovanni's side contrasts with the burnt-out candle whose wax stub can just be seen on his wife's side. In a metaphor commonly used in literature, he lives on, she is dead.
There is a carved figure of Saint Margaret, patron saint of pregnancy and childbirth, as a finial on the bedpost,. Saint Margaret was invoked to assist women in labour and to cure infertility. From the bedpost hangs a brush, symbolic of domestic care. Furthermore, the brush and the rosary (a popular wedding gift) appearing together on either side of the mirror may also allude to the dual Christian injunctions ora et labora (pray and work).
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 husbands side concern Christ's life. See mirror detail under Reproductions below.
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.




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Jan van Eyck (about 1395-1441)  Arnolfini Portrait  Oil on panel, 1434  82.2 x 60 cm  National Gallery, London, UKJan van Eyck (about 1395-1441)  Ghent Altarpiece  Oil on panel, 1432  375 x 520 cm  Cathedral of St Bavo, Ghent, BelgiumJan van Eyck (about 1395-1441)  Crucifixion and Last Judgment  Oil on canvas, transferred  wood, about 1430  56.5 x 19.7 cm (each panel)  Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA
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