Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Northern European Renaissance (pt. 7)

Giovanni Arnolfini was a rich Italian merchant who lived in Flanders and made a living off selling silk; he may have also been a banker.  In 1434 he found an artist (Jan van Eyck) to paint his wedding, and the resulting work of art, one of the most famous in art history, was the Arnolfini Wedding Portrait.
The painting shows two people standing side by side in a well-furnished room.  The man dressed in black is Giovanni Arnolfini, and the woman in green is his bride.  There is an extensive list of symbols in the painting, each meticulously painted with unparalleled precision (unparalleled then and unparalleled now).  Giovanni raises his right hand as if he is saying an oath (perhaps this is the moment when the couple are making their marriage vows).  The bride places her right hand in his left.  Giovanni's expensive fur coat demonstrates his wealth (so part of how they wanted to be remembered was as being rich).  The couple have removed their sandals as a sign that a holy event is taking place (they are also very contrite and devout).  There are prayer beads hanging on the wall behind them.  The man is next to the window (implying that his place is out in the working world); the woman is next to the bed (implying that her place is in the home).  The broom hanging in the back implies that it will be a tidy household.  The bride's "ruffled" dress (I know she looks pregnant, but it's supposed to just be ruffled) implies they will have a "fruitful" marriage.  (By the way, notice that this marriage is taking place in a bedroom?)  On the bedpost is a carving of St. Margaret, the patron saint of childbirth.  And the dog between the two is a symbol of loyalty (dogs are usually a symbol of loyalty).  On the wall we see a Latin inscription that reads "Jan van Eyck was here."  Haha, no he wasn't tagging his own painting—it was to signify that the artist was a witness to the marriage vows.  Below the inscription is a mirror, which shows the reflection of the room, the backs of Giovanni and his bride, and two people standing in the doorway.  These two people face the bride and groom as they exchange their vows.  One is the priest marrying them; the other person is you, the viewer (want to look at yourself? haha).
This is a close up of just the mirror.  Now do you see how detailed this painter was?  Around the mirror are tiny pictures of Christ's life.  Incredibly, Van Eyck was able to use such microscopic brushstrokes to add such detail to his paintings.  Lastly, a single burning candle on the chandelier overhead is the symbol of God's presence at the wedding.

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