Jan van Eyck and The Details Of The Arnolfini Portrait

In this content, we will give details of the famous painter Jan van Eyck ‘s work The Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife Giovanna Cenami, better known as The Arnolfini Portrait (The Arnolfini Marriage). As we see the details in the painting, we will all realize how distinguished this artwork is.



Jan van Eyck’s Enigmatic The Arnolfini Portrait

This famous and controversial painting was made in his own style by Jan van Eyck in 1434. This method used by Jan van Eyck changed his perspective on painting. We will try to tell you what the method used by Jan van Eyck is while examining the details of the painting.

Although much has been said and different opinions about this enigmatic painting, in fact, there is no very precise information about the people represented and what they are portraying in the painting.

The general belief about the painting is that it depicts a marriage ceremony that is most likely to occur.


The Meaning Of Jan Van Eyck 's The Arnolfini Portrait

The Arnolfini Portrait (The Arnolfini Marriage), 1434 by Jan van Eyck | Jan van Eyck and The Details Of The Arnolfini Portrait


The painting appears to be a depiction of a married couple, and those who are married are likely as in the full name of the painting, it is thought to be Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife Giovanna Cenami. But according to this theory, Giovanni’s wife must have married a second time between the death of 1433 and the painting of this double portrait in 1434. This highly probable but unproven theory is close to the truth.

However, according to this theory, it is possible that Giovanni’s wife died in 1433, and Giovanni was married for the second time because this portrait was painted in 1434. This highly probable but unproven theory is close to the truth.

This mystery in his work is almost reflected in the life of Jan van Eyck.

Although Jan van Eyck completed almost all of his works with signature and date, his date of birth and where he was born is unknown.

We have very little information about before 1422. At this time, Jan van Eyck was first mentioned in documents as an artist working for the palace.

Strictly adhering to the rules of perspective and abbreviation for realistic representation, he has chosen a different path from his contemporary Florentines, trying to reflect the human anatomy as best he can.

Jan van Eyck followed a different method by achieving natural illusions thanks to his use of optics in his work and the tiny details he created.

It has managed to reach form and space understanding in this way. In fact, his original style and method were formed thanks to the oil painting and varnish techniques he developed.

Jan van Eyck’s attention to detail has resulted in surprising realism in his work. If there is an aspect to be criticized in Jan van Eyck’s works, which exhibits superior art in many ways, it can be said that emotion and drama remain incomplete.

Let’s look at the details of this mysterious painting.



Tempera (Egg Tempera) vs Oil Paints

At that time, artists had to make their own paints from plants or minerals while using colors. This was a very arduous task and had to be mixed with liquid ingredients to achieve the desired paste consistency.

Eggs were generally used as the binding liquid. The material made in this style was called tempera*. It was a disadvantage that paints made from this material dry quickly. It made it difficult to make corrections and changes to the painting.

Using oil instead of eggs was an advantage for Jan van Eyck to work more slowly and without errors. Because the paint containing oil was drying later.

The fact that the oil paint is a thin spreadable substance allowed to create layers in the painting by processing on the dry paint. Thus, the reflections of light, the sparkle on the figures, and the details of glitter began to be reflected in the works more strikingly. The fluidity of the oil allowed invisible brushstrokes, resulting in a perfectly smooth surface.

Undoubtedly, this painting, which seems fascinating and mysterious to today’s audiences, was a work that was very entertaining and simple to understand.

Due to the narrow space of the front, the two main figures of the work are depicted larger than they are. Despite this, the painter has successfully placed many symbols and objects in this narrow space.



Detail of the convex mirror in The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck

The female figure looks particularly flashy. If you think this woman in the picture is pregnant, you are wrong!

Recent studies show that the clothes worn by women in private ceremonies at that time were approximately similar to the outfit shown in this picture. So we can say that the woman in the picture was a person who closely followed the fashion of that time.

Now, let’s examine the part of this work that most affected us.


Jan van Eyck and The Meaning Of The Arnolfini Portrait

Detail of the convex mirror in The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck | Jan van Eyck and The Details Of The Arnolfini Portrait


On the wall behind the pair is a convex mirror. The convex mirror is like an eye looking behind us.

Two people appear in the reflection in the mirror, one of which is the painter himself. They actually represent people watching the painting. Considering the size of the mirror compared to the painting, it is impossible not to admire the mastery revealed in this convex mirror.

The details in the frame of the mirror are really eye-catching …



Jan van Eyck: I’m Here Too

Each of the ten protrusions in the frame is used as a canvas and the life of Jesus is described.

In the article just above the mirror frame; The Latin writes ‘Johannes de eyck fuit hic 1434, meaning ‘Jan van Eyck was here 1434‘.


Johannes de eyck fuit hic 1434 | Jan van Eyck and The Meaning Of The Arnolfini Portrait


Although it is daytime, the candle burning in the chandelier above the couple is the symbol of the presence of Jesus. But in fact, by likening human life to a candle, it also symbolizes the temporality of life.


Burning candle in The Arnolfini Portrait (The Arnolfini Marriage) | Jan van Eyck and The Details Of The Arnolfini Portrait


The oranges seen in front of the window are a symbol of wealth because they were very rare fruits at that time.

In addition, the furry and flamboyant clothes worn by the figures, the detailed beauty of the carpet, and rich fabrics support this situation.

Almost everything in the room symbolizes something.

Broom; cleanliness, purity.
Prayer rosary close to the male figure among the couple; perceived as a sign of acceptance of the groom.
The bride tilting her head slightly forward and the headboard on the side close to the bride – a carved statuette of Saint Margaret, known as the patron saint of birth – is a harbinger of a happy marriage with a child to be born.


Details of The Arnolfini Portrait | Jan van Eyck and The Details Of The Arnolfini Portrait


One of the main objects in the picture is the dog standing happily in the middle of the couple.

Many features have been attributed to dogs in art. The little dog symbolizes loyalty or can be seen as an emblem of lust, signifying the couple’s desire to have a child.


Jan van Eyck and The Arnolfini Portrait

Dogs in paintings | Details of The Arnolfini Portrait


It is truly unbelievable that so much detail and beauty can fit only 82 cm X 60 cm.

The original of the painting is currently in the National Gallery in London.

In this painting, which does not look very beautiful at first glance, it is impossible not to be amazed at how deep the meaning in the table can be, by seeing the details and having a little knowledge of the life of that period.

It is these elements that make these artworks of art attractive anyway!



*Tempera: Also known as egg tempera, is a permanent, fast-drying painting medium consisting of colored pigments mixed with a water-soluble binder medium, usually glutinous material such as egg yolk. Tempera also refers to the paintings done in this medium. Tempera paintings are very long-lasting, and examples from the first century AD still exist. Egg tempera was a primary method of painting until after 1500 when it was superseded by the invention of an oil painting. (Ref: Wikipedia)


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