giovanni arnolfini and his bride

Giovanni Arnolfini and his Bride (1434)by Jan Van Eyck is one of my personal favorites of the period, and it is rich with all sorts of hidden surprises. One of the early Renaissance painters in the Netherlands, Van Eyck painted this portrait for Arnolfini, who was an Italian merchants living in Bruges at the time. This painting is lauded for its skillful depiction of the room, which was evidently much smaller than it appears here, and the remarkable detail of the figures.

There is also much debate over the many supposed symbols hidden in the painting by Van Eyck. For example, it has been interpreted that the woman in the figure is placed by the bed in order to symbolize her duty as the homemaker and childbearer of the house, while the man is settled by the window–a symbol of his role in the outside world. All of these symbols are conjectures by scholars, but it is interesting to note that in the mirror on the wall, it is possible to spot a reflection of the entire scene, including the painter. Also, the writing on the wall says, “Johannes van Eyck was here, 1434.”

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Jan Van Eyck Giovanni Arnolfini and His Bride 1434

This would have been used as a legal document to show that Arnolfini and his bride are actually married. They didn’t generally need a church or a priest. All they need was witnesses and that is what Van Eyck and his brother were. If you look closely into the mirror, you can see that he painted himself and his brother into the painting proving their presence. he also signed the painting as if he would have a legal document.