Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Jan van Eyck's Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife

Jan van Eyck is a northern artist from Flanders who specialized in using oil paints. The painting I chose to discuss is Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife because of the story and symbolism as well as the incredible detail that van Eyck painted.

The symbolism is so great in this portrait that I am choosing to break it down by sections of the painting, first starting with the left hand side. On this side there is an open window, this is to show that Arnolfini, who is on the left hand side, is expected to go out and work. There are also some orange fruits near the window, this is to show that Arnolfini is expected to bring home the fruits of his labor. These are also said to be exotic fruits, which is one indication that this couple is wealthy.

In the center starting from the top of the painting there is a chandelier with seven spots for candles. The seven spots are said to represent the seven sacraments, and the one burning candle is also said to be a symbol of Christ's presence. The convex mirror in the middle of the painting is said to be symbolic of the couples wealth as well as the all-seeing eye of God. Finally, at the feet of the couple there is a dog. This dog also is symbolic of both their wealth as well as the loyalty between the couple to each other.

On the right hand side of the painting there is a feather duster, this is said to represent that the wife's job is to keep the home clean. The bed on this side is representative of their wealth as well as insinuating that the woman is expected to have children. Another symbol that she is to have children is the green color of her dress, which represents fertility, and the fact that she looks to be carrying a child, although it is not believed that she would have been pregnant at the time. The last piece of symbolism is on all sides of the painting. It shows that both husband and wife are barefoot. This is to symbolize that they are standing on Holy ground.

Two amazing details that van Eyck was able to portray deals with the convex mirror and the signature above the mirror. In the mirror, van Eyck was able to show the mirrored image of the scene as well as himself painting the scene. The man in the red turban is van Eyck, and this was part of his signature on the painting. The size of the mirror is so small, yet he was able to portray great detail because of his use of oil paints. The signature above the mirror translates into "Jan van Eyck was present, 1434." This helps to portray that he was also signing this as a witness to the marriage, because normally a work of art would be signed "Jan van Eyck made this."

Kren, Emil, Marx, Daniel. “Web Gallery of Art”. March 2, 2010

Kren, Emil, Marx, Daniel. “Web Gallery of Art”. March 2, 2010

Long, James. "Art - Renaissance to 1750". March 2, 2010

Stokstad, Marilyn. Art History: Fourteenth to Seventeenth Century Art 4. 5 vols.
Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc., 2009.

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