Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Arnolfini Marriage

As I was finishing up my notes on Jan van Eyck's documentary to hand them in for you before mid-term, I decided to dedicate an article for it on my blog. I find it extremely fascinating to look at because it seems to have a very clear meaning, however for thousands and thousands of years, artists have been debating on the paintings actual meaning. Sadly, we will never know the true answer. When you first look at it, you notice a couple that seem to be expecting a child and the bright colors. The lady is holding her belly as a pregnant mother would, the dress is emerald green, the chair and bed are bright red and there is light coming from outside the window that illuminates the room. However, if you look at the painting closer, you notice many other details. The oranges and their clothes for example. Both indicate that this family is particularly wealthy since both are expensive. Some people may believe that the couple simply wanted to have their portrait painted. On the other hand, other painters look at all the symbolic items in the painting and describe it as a promise to link two families together, that is, a marriage. As you look at the mirror behind the two people, you notice that there is a reflection of the ''married'' couple, a self-portrait of Jan van Eyck and another man who may have been the official witness of the marriage. His self portrait is quite bizarre and unique for you really have to be a good observer in order to see such a tiny detail. Above the mirror is the artists signature. Van Eyck was here, 1434. It is said to be a marriage certificate. Then the chandelier and the lit candle may represent the presence of God in the painting or St-Margaret, the patron saint of women in child birth. The pair of shoes lying on the floor may look very simple, however some people debate that it is a wedding present that symbolizes domestic stability and tranquility. The dog may be seen as a symbol of love and faithfulness. The bed symbolizes her fertility and the marriage bed. She should stay home and be domestic and make babies. All of these symbols point out that they are united by marriage, Van Eyck and another man are their witnesses, they have a marriage certificate and they are expecting. Now if we put that aside, other painters would have a very different perspective regarding the painting. They would first of all say that the lady is not pregnant. The big bump on her belly was very stylish back then for ladies would look like the pregnant queen who was ruling at the time. It would then be said that The two people in the portrait were not wealthy at all, but had paid an artist to make them look so. The oranges, the fabric used for clothing, the bed were all false. It was mentioned in the documentary that the painting was decoded with ultra red lighting I believe, to find out what might have been added to the paintings and we found out that the oranges, slippers, dogs, and some of the fabric had been added afterward. All in all, paintings are extremely fascinating because they can hold so many different meanings depending on what the viewer wants to see. Historical context is also very important to know in order to fully understand a painting.

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