Jan Van Eyck's: Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife - Revolutionary Yet Forever Mysterious

Essay by siperwrxCollege, UndergraduateA-, November 2007

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Jan Van Eyck's: Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife

Revolutionary Yet Forever Mysterious

Regarded as one of the most original and complex paintings in Western art history, the Arnolfini Portrait as it is commonly referred to, depicts Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini and his wife Giovanna Cenami in a 15th century Flemish bedchamber. Currently part of the collection of the National Gallery in London, Van Eyck performed the work with oil on oak panel in 1434.� Van Eyck carefully selected his iconographic details in order to incorporate deeper meaning into his paintings. The Arnolfini wedding is especially interesting because almost every detail holds symbolic value referencing ideals such as love, the sanctity of marriage, and faith. Not only did Van Eyck's use of iconic figures provide valuable information about the time in which this painting took place, it also led him to be considered a founder of the Early Renaissance style in the Northern Renaissance.2

His precision with a brush challenged the abilities of contemporary artists. This essay will provide an overview of symbols presented, an examination of these symbols as they applied during Jan Van Eyck's era, and will demonstrate how the format in which the painting was presented accentuated its significance.

Historical documents from 15th century Bruges are sparse and leave many questions surrounding Jan van Eyck unanswered. The first reference to this particular painting, roughly seventy-five years after it's creation, gives the name of the man shown in the piece as Arnolfini. The Arnolfini family was a powerful merchant trading family. The most successful member of that family was a man by the name of Giovanni Arnolfini who came to Bruges when he was young and continued to live there for the following 60 years; maintaining his wealth until he passed away. He traded expensive fabrics, tapestries,