Giovanni Arnolfini and His BrideAlthough photography has all but eliminated the painted portrait on the walls of the average American home, those who can afford them still find they add a touch of "class" and often at a price that is not too much more than a high-quality photographic portrait of similar size. Though classic painted portraits abound in the realm of "important" paintings from art history, right up there with old standards like the Mona Lisa and Gainsborough's Blue Boy, there is another much older, and definitely more intriguing painted portrait, that being Jan van Eyck's Giovanni Arnolfini and His Bride.
Painted in 1434 at the dawn of the Early Renaissance, just as secular painting was starting to share the spotlight with religious works which had been the mainstay of painters for generations, the double portrait is rich with religious symbolism. Painted in oil on wood in a Flemish Style, the exquisite detail bears much of the influence of the Northern Renaissance. More than just a depiction of a wedding, the painting actually serves as a marriage document. The single candle in the chandelier is said to represent the presence of God while their shoeless feet indicate they are standing on holy ground. Though the bride, in her medieval robes appears to some to be with child, this is said by art historians not to be the case.
On the back wall is a round, convex mirror reflecting the images of the two witnesses to the marriage ceremony, none other then the artist himself and his wife. The elegant calligraphy on the wall over the mirror further documents this fact. Translated it reads: "Jan van Eyck was here."
Contributed by Lane, Jim
1 December 1997