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Giovanni Arnolfini and His Bride
Jan van Eyck, the prominent 15th century Flemish artist, has often been noted as a progressor of Northern European Art. Each of his works depict subject matter in unique terms, and his painting, Giovanni Arnolfini and His Bride, is no different. van Eyck's oil on wood captures the holy act of matrimony and augments the event with a complex and heavy use of semiotics and symbols. Additionally, van Eyck displays his mastery as an artist with his use of light and attention to detail. Overall, the Arnolfini Portrait perpetuates both the sacred religious act of marriage and the specific marriage between the Lucca bussinessman, Giovanni, and his bride.
As mentioned before, the purpose of van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait was to sanctify the marriage between Arnolfini and his bethrothed. van Eyck paid close attention to detail. For example, Arnolfini's bride wears a long green dress that flows past her feet. The inside of the dress appears to be lined with fur as seen on the bottom and sleeve of her dress. Arnolfini is also dressed in fur and wears a large black, bowl-shaped hat perhaps a symbolic piece of clothing for matrimony. Moreover, van Eyck masterfully communicates the setting of the work to his viewers. The room is located upstairs, as noted by the window, and could be either a bedroom or a reception room specified for marriage. The opulence of the room such as the red bed coverings and the chandelier help to uphold the assertion that the room is, in fact, a marriage reception room.
van Eyck made various connections to Christianity in his oil painting. For example, the statue of Saint Margaret, saint of childbirth rests on the bedpost. The clogs on the left of the painting have been taken off and cast aside, suggesting the holiness of the room. Other symbols glorify the event of marriage. For example, a dog stands in front of the couple which suggests fidelity and trust. The oranges on and below the window suggest fertility. It has also been said that placing on burning candle on the chandelier was a traditional Flemish marriage custom, which is also depicted on the painting. van Eyck makes great use of his medium, oil, by expanding on the richness and mix of colors. The green and red on the right absorb the dark colors on the left. Van Eyck's remarkable detail is perhaps best seen in the convex mirror which reflects the couple as well as two unidentified men. Lastly, van Eyck humorfully and cleverfully signed the work by writing above the mirror, "Jan van Eyck was here."
van Eyck's painting concurred with other such works of piety and sanctity in 15th century Northern European Art.
Various comparisons can be made to van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait. The Ancient Egyptian statue of Menkaure and his Wife stands in stark contrast with the portrait yet a few similarities can be noted. In both, the male stands on the left and the women on the right, a convention gender role. Furthermore, the connection between Arnolfini and his wife is similar yet not as unemotional as the one between Menkaure and his wife. The most notable variation between the two is the stance. Whereas Menkaure and his wife are rigidly frontal, Arnolfini and his bethrothed stand angled to each other.
Another comparison can be made through van Eyck's convex mirror. Spanish painter Diego Velasquez used a similar mirror in his painting, Las Meninas which visibly depicted the scene. The use of a convex mirror is testament to both artists' exquisite detail.
van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait has stood the test of time as one of the great Northern Renaissance oil paintings because of its myriad of symbols and remarkable detail in capturing the holy act of matrimony. Many art historians continue to argue over the depiction of the painting suggesting that it may be a bethrothal or the conferring of legal privileges.
Gardner's Art Through the Ages, Fred S. Kleiner and Christin J. Mamiya,
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