ARH2051 – Journal assignment 2
Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait (1434)
Giovanni Arnolfini and His Wife (1434) by Jan van Eyck is a small oil painting on oak panel of two people holding hands and standing side by side. At the back there is a mirror showing the painters and the two people’s reflections. Its detailed illuminated background and combined medieval symbolism and modern realism, make this piece interesting. There are diverse methods to interpret an artwork. In this case, Jan Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait by Erwin Panofski, used an iconographic analysis and The Painter’s Workshop by W.G. Constable used a technical analysis. The opposing results of both studies make this piece enigmatic; since there is no study which proves the artist’s real intentions; its doors are open for viewers to decide its nature.
According to Pantofsky, the couple on the portrait were contracting “per fidem manualemm” marriage, a ceremony performing in the absence of a priest, only a promise of faith. He states the portrait is an “artistic marriage certificate.” It was a memorial portrait that worked as a document at the same time, where the artist signed his name as a witness.
The joining of hands was a symbol of marriage, and the woman standing upon a dog, a symbol of marital faith. The St. Margaret triumphing over Dragon statue on the bed, appeals to women expecting a child or wanting to have one. Candles are a symbol of the wisdom of god and in the portrait we find a marriage candle lighten up during day time, giving a feeling of sacredness. Additionally, the groom’s right arm makes a gesture of prayer.
Since the use of personifications and allegories was frequent and, as medieval literature has shown us, “per fidem manualemm” marriages were common, these symbols were easy to identify by people from the fifteenth century. Nevertheless, the artist’s