Sunday, 18 September 2011

A picture, a 1,000 words, a 1,000 secrets

This is one of my favorite paintings, came across it while in school through a history book, and late on in college through a history of art class.

The colors just marry each other so perfectly, the setting is so mystical, and the attention to details in it is insane on so many levels, i will leave the mystery of the painting to be unraveled as per art historian Carola Hicks

The couple Among the foreign merchants living in prosperous 15th-century Bruges were members of the Arnolfini clan from Lucca in Italy. They combined trade with finance and were the first merchant bankers. Argument has flourished over which Arnolfini this is and we will never know for sure. The best guess is that it is Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini, who married Costanza Trenta in 1426.
The pregnancy? Giovanni and Costanza had no recorded children and Costanza had died by 1433, the year before the portrait was painted. Is this a memorial to Costanza, who might have died in childbirth? Artists liked to pose women in a pregnant stance, whether they were or not, as fertility was an essential quality in a wife. There are other symbols of fertility, from the red bed to the rug – a rare commodity in 15th-century Northern Europe, and associated with a birthing chamber. Also, the figure carved on the chair behind the woman is St Margaret, patron saint of childbirth.
The bed This is what guests would have expected to see in a reception room. It may not have been used for sleeping in, but implied that the master of the house was of sufficiently high status to exhibit such a possession as an adornment.

Thee oranges In Bruges, oranges were a rare delicacy imported from the far south. They were prized for their culinary properties, adding zest to sauces that livened up dull Flemish winter fare. The fruit and its blossom were symbols of love and marriage, and doctors recommended that oranges be carried in order to stave off the plague. 

The sandals These (lying on the floor) are the one really fashionable element of the woman’s ensemble. Dyed leather was another luxury, with dark tones the hardest to achieve. With the embellishment of the shiny brass studs, these sandals must have been expensive, a status symbol
as prized as Louboutins today.

Their clothes Both wear the products that made Bruges the centre of a trading empire – fur, silk, wool, linen, leather and gold. The wife’s gown has astonishing dimensions – a replica made in 1997 by students from the Wimbledon School of Art required 35 metres of material. It is lined with squirrel fur, perhaps as many as 2,000 skins. The most prestigious fur was sable, reserved for royalty and aristocracy. The husband’s tabard is lined with pine marten – the next best thing – and its plum tones are another statement of wealth, for dark dyes were more expensive to produce.

The mirror The mirror supplies a new subject – two more people entering the room. The Latin inscription above it – Johannes van Eyck fuit hic (Jan van Eyck was here) – confirms the presence of the artist himself in this invented room. The circular, slightly convex surface was the only shape available for mirrors made of glass– which were a rare domestic item. Only the privileged few were able to see their own faces.

The beads and the brush The string of amber beads to the left of the mirror is a paternoster – a form of rosary, produced in Bruges. Van Eyck was perhaps advertising a local industry exported by Arnolfini. Beads symbolised female piety and were a standard gift from a man to his bride. The brush, hanging to the right of the mirror, represents the industry and humility of Christ’s mother – suggesting the Flemish tradition of showing biblical characters in modern settings.

The dog This is a brussels griffon, the descendant of a long line of flanders terriers bred to catch rats. The breed reached England in the 19th century and its features are still carefully prescribed by the Kennel Club today.


1 comment:

  1. we took this painting in the history course in uni its for jan van ayek the Arnolfini wedding