Sunday, July 14, 2013

Arnolfini Double Portrait


 This is the Arnolfini Double Portrait painted by Jan van Eyck in 1434. It is also well known as The Arnolfini Wedding, The Arnolfini Marriage, or the Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife.  This painting portrays Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini and most likely his future wife in their home, in the Flemish city of Bruges.  Van Eyck painted this portrait with oil on oak panel. He applied thin layers of translucent glazes and mixed the oils by painting wet on wet paint.  This was used to achieve the beautiful colors seen in the painting to give it a sense of realism.  The technique used to paint this portrait combined with the high level of detail and isometric viewpoint, rendered this paining one of the most complex pieces of art in its time.

The complexity of this artwork has given it some mystery to those who attempt to analyze it. Four prominent features of this paining have become of the focus of today’s historians; The configuration of the man near the window, the woman holding her dress, the dog in the front, and the mirror in the back with writing above it.  First the configuration of the man near the window is said to symbolize the merchant Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini as a man who does business outside the home.  As for the woman is on the interior of the home showing that her role is at home.  Next the woman holding her dress is a symbol of great wealth.  The fabric used to make that dress at this time was extremely expensive and the overabundance of fabric gives the woman a sense of wealth and high social status.  This idea of great wealth is also portray by the dog in front.  People of wealth in this time had the leisure and money to care for lapdogs, but in the context of this painting it can also be given a double meaning of symbolizing loyalty between Giovanni and his wife.  Finally and most importantly to Van Eyck, the artist, is the mirror in the background.  When inspected closely you can not only see the reflection of the backs of the people portray in the portrait but in the back you can see Van Eyck paining that picture.  This is confirmed by the words inscribed above the mirror indicating that Van Eyck was here.  This is a subtle but extremely important part of this painting because Van Eyck is attempting to give artists social status by telling the world that he was a part of this wealthy family’s inner circle and was welcome into their home.  This concept of artists having social status is in direct contradiction from the social norm of corresponding artists with manual labors like brick layers.


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