The Arnolfini Portrait is believed to be a portrait of the Italian merchant Giovanni Arnolfini and his wife, presumably in their home in the Flemish city of Bruges. It is considered one of the most original and complex paintings in Western art history.
Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife is one of Jan van Eyck's greatest masterpieces, it is signed and dated 1434. Giovanni Arnolfini was a wealthy merchant from Lucca who in 1420 had settled in Bruges, where he had been knighted by Duke Philip the Good and married Giovanna Cenami, also from Lucca. The two are depicted standing, in their bedchamber. In the foreground appears a small dog, symbol of marital fidelity, while on the rear wall a convex mirror, its frame decorated with scenes of the Passion, reflects an image of the room in which we can see, as well as the husband and wife, two male figures, one of them probably the painter himself. It is not certain that Arnolfini's wife is pregnant, as has often been claimed. According to the most accredited interpretation, the work may in fact represent the wedding ceremony, despite the absence of a priest (in this case the two figures would be the witnesses).
Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife marks a new level of maturity in Jan van Eyck's painting work. The window in perspective that lets sunlight into the room, with the still life of fruit on the piece of furniture just under the sill, is one of the most advanced studies of light of the early 15th century and was to serve as a model for painting in Flanders, and elsewhere, until at least the time of Jan Vermeer Another remarkable feature is the lamp, an extremely difficult exercise in the representation of perspective and light. The very idea of the mirror on the back wall, which presents the image of the room in reverse, distorted by the curvature, constitutes a compositional innovation of great significance: the illusory space of the picture is redoubled and to some extent involves, through the reflection, the space of the observer. The painter's interest in the study of optics and perspective took a different route from the research carried out by Italian artists into the same themes, achieving results that were in ninny ways more advanced and perhaps unequalled over the course of the 15th century.
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