Jan van Eyck was “one of the greatest and most influential Flemish painters of altarpieces and portraits of the 1400’s” (Hayes).
van Eyck’s paintings often include objects with hidden symbolic meaning. There are several different interpretations of the symbolic meaning concerning his portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his second bride often referred to as “The Arnolfini Marriage”. Marriage is a sacred union between man and woman. A wedding is one of the most important events in a woman’s life. Often a wedding occurs in the present of the wedding party, family members and friends. During the 1400’s a wedding ceremony was performed in the privacy of the home. van Eyck was hired to paint a portrait of this marriage union. “Some art historians, like Panofsky, claim that van Eyck was a witness to the Arnolfini wedding and the painting serves as documentation of their vows” (Kren).
Jeanne de Chenany looks pregnant in her green wedding dress, this wedding was kept private because it was a secret or maybe this type of dress was very stylish during the 1400’s. The bride was definitely not a virgin, because white symbolizes pureness not green. Arnolfini is holding Jeanne de Chenany hand as an expression of his love for her. This wedding was held during the daytime because you can clearly see the light through the window in the painting. The single burning candle in the chandelier was not needed to light up the room. This candle symbolizes the union candle or could even symbolize the presence of God. In the Renaissance culture, a devotional candle signified God’s all-seeing knowledge (Pioch).
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Arnolfini and his bride are not wearing any shoes. This symbolizes the floor is considered holy ground or the sanctity of marriage (Pioch).
Some art historians claim the shoes do not have a symbolic meaning. Dog were considered a symbol of devotion and love so often they were included in portraits of a married couple. van Eyck painted the mirror as a reflection of the witnesses present for the wedding. Which includes “van Eyck’s own tiny self-portrait” (Pioch).
His signature on the painting reads “Jan van Eyck was present”, this has been interpreted by some historians as an indication that he served as a witness” (Pioch).
If the “Arnolfini’s Marriage” had taken place during the 1900’s it would have been very easy for an artist to include every single detail of the wedding. Because the wedding took place during the 1400’s, all we can do is assume or use our best judgment to interpret the true meaning of each symbol in the portrait. We can all at least agree van Eyck was the artist that painted this portrait. Then again some historians say his brother Hubert was the artist. (Kren)
Gibaldi, Joseph. MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers. New York: Mod. Lang. Assn., 1999.
Hayes, Rae-Anne and Klein, Amy. “Arnolfini Portrait Also Known As The Arnolfini Marriage” 13 May 2002.
Kren, Emil, and Marx, Daniel. Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife” Web Gallery of Art 13 May 2002.
Pioch, Nicolas. “The Arnolfini Marriage”16 February 1996. America Online. 13 May 2002.