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Arnolfini

Arnolfini

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Published by: Luis Alfonso García Navarro on Apr 06, 2013
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04/06/2013

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Cambridge Introduction to the

Historvof Art
J

Looking atPictures
SU SA N WO O DF O R D

Lookingat Pictures SUSANWOODFORD CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS Cambridge Loadon New Yorl New Rochelle Melboume Svdnev .

33x 2zJins .l Jan vD Eyclr (Fldish. n ir uquisirety prinred in radianr coloursand with a vastnumber of beguilingdetails_ q Atob' Der^il ot rhe Analiii anl hb Bndc (ris.94) 94 R s. you can hardly pick a better one than Jan van Eyck's double ponrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his wifc (Fig.rr) : CioMn"i Attulfni atul (8r x sTch). c.94) that hangsin the Nationat Ga erv in London. Lers rhanr mrrre high.rj9Fr4.rz Hidden meaninss Ifyou want simpty to enjoy looking at a picture.

but the portralal ofa religioussacram€nt: the sacrament of marriage. For despiteits detailedreilism. to include us in th€ scene.The litrledogis notjustan ordinarypct butrcpres€nts Iidelity. thereis a magicabout this pdntins I spirituality.By holding rhe young woman's hand in his and rdsing his othcr hand in rhe gesture that signifies taling a solemnoarh. it is not neededfor illumination in fult daylight. therc is a lonc candleburning. Tlis muturl oath-takingwithout the presenc€ ol clcrgy was quite aoequare ro serve asa marnage ceremonv at that time : 1:134. ciovanni tunolfini pledgeshimself to his bridc. the shine ofpolished metal and eventhe delicate carvingon the wood$ork_ lhe sensc ofintimacyis enhanc€d by the subtleplayoflight tharnot only clirifi€s but alsounites. wrtnesses rvereprescntat this wedding.his slippcrs are to the telt in the foreground. thcy seernto extend ibrward.95).|rork. but is thereto symbolise rll-seeing Christ.In the chrndelier. for its convex surfacereflects the door'$iy opposite the coupleand relealsthat two witnesses are standingtherc (Fig. hels in the cenfte at the . reciprocates in kind.the paintingis saturated wirhmeaning. 'l'hough even witnesses were not strictly necessary. by rhe sotrness offur.93). whose presenc€ sanctifies themalliagc.We are encouragedto come closcr roo not only b-\'the small scaleof the . Above the miror thc painter tcstifies to his own presence at the scene by wriring in florid legalscript Jan van Eyck washere'andaddinsthe date(Fig.in placingher hand in his. but also by the richnessof det. while she.impartingan almosrmystic quality to the picturc. elen the fad that the two peoplestandbarefoot .Ifwe look closety into the mirror.The rvalls of the comfortable and wetl-appoinred room ar€cut olT abruptly by the frame. This is no ordinary pictureofa man anda woman. In fact. lvecan verify this fact. the crystalbeads hanging on the wall andthe spotless mirror signify purity while the fruits on the chestand the windowsiltarea reminderofthc stateofinnocence b€foreAdam andEve committed Oiginal Sin. to invite us in.and this is provenbv the existence of the painting itsel! rvhich servesto some extent rs a document attesting ro the marriage. But it is not only the scene in its entiretythar is meaningful:every detail in it also has a meaning.One hasN sense that therc must be a deepermeaningbchind atl thc apparentlycommonplace objects with which this pleasant interior is filled.il in the rcnderingofevery pan ofit.

The symbols are not readily recognised but are disguised as perfecdy natural-seeming obiects.rnbolism was chamcteristic of Flemish an in this period. but the image of a deeply solemn religious moment pervaded by the presenceof cod. Nevertheless these disguised s]. a secular representation of natural appearances. Thus one can see that the picture is filled with symbols and there are more that we have not even not€d. Such disguised sl. that they choseto elevatetheir study ofnature into something more spiritual.not merely a double portrait. Artists in the fifteenth centur_v wished to make more realistic images. it can be found in other works by Van Eyck and in the works of his contemporaries. Earlier pictures hrd been filled with explicit and unmistakable slmbols. such as those we have just pointed out. Not many paintings are like this highly remarkable one. but it is us€ful to remember that there can often be a Ereat deal morc to a picture than just what meetsthe eye.rnbols sancrify rhepictureso that it is not merely a genre scene. .back hasmeaning: it indicates that the couple are standing on holy ground and have therefore removed their shocs.m that it was through lirgrired symbols.

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