NATIONAL GALLERY, Arnolfini Portrait Van Eyck

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English / USA Language: English / USA

With the room dedicated to 15th-century Flemish painting, you are now fully immersed in Art with a capital A. Choosing from among the many masterpieces by Jan Van Eyck, I'd like to tell you about the wedding portrait known as The Arnolfini Portrait, which is one of the most famous and replicated works of art in the world. No less important is the fascination it raises for the mystery related to its figures.

For many years it was believed that the portrait depicted the wealthy merchant John Arnolfini with his wife, portrayed in the intimacy of their comfortable home in Bruges, but the identity of the two main figures has been questioned recently, and consequently also the two minor figures that are reflected in the mirror; in fact, as you can see, the card for the painting now includes a prudent question mark. On the other hand, the author, date, and history of the painting are certain: it's even signed and dated! The signature can be seen on the back wall above the convex mirror: the strange thing is that it's in Latin, while in other panels that you can see in this same room, van Eyck preferred to use the ancient Dutch language or even French.

Van Eyck has created an unforgettable scene here. The chandelier, which is the true center of the composition, imitates the reflections of the golden bronze with astonishing credibility; the neatly arranged items, the elegance of the clothing, and the sophistication of the two spouses' traits all convey a sense of high social standing, while the adorable hairy puppy and pair of clogs on the floor add a more domestic atmosphere to the painting, as well as alluding to the virtue of fidelity that is fundamental in any marriage. The presence of the mirror overturns and doubles the pictorial space, and includes things and people that are in "front" of the two protagonists; squinting a bit, you can see two male figures, and through this trick the painter also involves us viewers, no longer strangers but "figures" called on to participate.


FUN FACT: the painting's details are so refined and wise that they're almost hard to believe; if you look beyond the window lined with bricks fixed with limestone, you can even see a tree with ripe red cherries! With these details Van Eyck helps us understand that the bedroom is on the first floor, and that the painting is set in June.


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