One of my favorite painters of all time is Jan van Eyck because of his amazing attention to detail and impeccable technical ability. Jan van Eyck was a Flemish painter known for his oil paintings on wood panel in which he used a glazing technique to create realistic, extremely well executed, precise, objective descriptions of what he saw. He was one of the best Northern Renaissance painters of the 15th century. My favorite painting of his is the Arnolfini Wedding. The couple represented has been traditionally identified as Giovanni Arnolfini and his wife, Giovanna Cenami.
Why is this one of my favorite paintings? Where do I start? One of my favorite things about Renaissance art, in general, is its symbolism. A painting may be worth a thousand words, but a Renaissance painting is a epic novel! So, for our art history lesson for the day….
Giovanni Arnolfini holds his wife’s right hand in his left, which symbolizes a marriage between people of different classes. The side of the room he stands on is by the window, open to the world where men work, while Giovanna is close to the domestic interior where the “woman’s role” takes place being a wife and mother. The room is ruffled with religious details such as the convex mirror that has been interpreted as the all seeing eye of God and the roundels decorating it with details from the Passion of Christ.
There are crystal prayer beads on the wall, Saint Margaret (protector of women in childbirth) is carved on the chair next to the bed, the single lit candle in the chandelier could reprent Christ’s presence, and the fruit in the window alludes to both fertility and possibly the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
Some more symbolism:
-Discarded shoes signify the sanctity of marriage/ holy ground
-Dog represents fidelity
-The woman is not pregnant, but rather painted as the current queen who was pregnant at the time
-Red is, of course, a loaded color. It represents love and passion, but also cruelty and blood. In this painting, the former is usually used as the interpretation.
This painting has numerous interpretations and objects to interpret. I love it because every time I look at it, I find something new! But I will end with the best part of the painting… the back wall! It is believed that this painting was used as some sort of legal document, possibly a pictorial power of attorney. There are two figures painted in the mirror. One is a man in a red turban, possibly Jan van Eyck, and another unknown male. They are the witnesses to the betrothal. The final clue is the very clever signature. Above the mirror it says, “Johannes de eyck fuit hic 1434.” This translates to “Jan van Eyck was here 1434.” At only 33″x22.5″ this painting is absolutely incredible!