Behind the curtains of one of the most prominent pieces of art ever made, stood one uncertainty and even mysterious allurement towards it. The piece of art under question is The Arnolfini Marriage by Jan van Eyck, produced around 1434.
According to the art historian Ernst Gombrich that portrait as he said it “in its own way it was as new and revolutionary as Donatello’s or Masaccio’s work in Italy. A simple corner of the real world had suddenly been fixed on to a panel as if by magic … For the first time in history the artist became the perfect eye-witness in the truest sense of the term”
Indeed, the revolutionary spectacle in the form of art is even more that blatantly obvious, with its religious symbolism, the mirror as a weapon to reflect the space and its domesticated atmosphere making us witnesses to moment of utmost importance – a marriage as the vast majority of the art historians agree upon it.
The picture is a portrait of Italian merchant Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini and possibly his wife,presumably in their home in the Flemish city of Bruges. However, the thing that captivates the mind of many people is what exactly all the objects represent and whether there is some secret buried within the picture. Is there a puzzle or it’s only production of our lack of understanding of one piece of art aiming merely to represent the distant reality as it was?
The casually scattered and illuminated by the day light oranges capture our attention, even if we try to ignore them. Some art historians adhere to the idea that they are sheer representation of wealth as in that time to have an oranges was a luxury. By contrast, another assume that they possess religious meaning, strictly related with the garden of Eden, telling as that the first sin, the sin of consumption is done. But why were they not apples? Or Eyck wanted a much more subtle representation of that symbol. Probably, it could be both.
The hand gesture
Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini’’s hand gesture could be interpreted in many ways as well. According to elaborate research on the layers of the picture, Van Eyck made an several correction of the position of the hand. Many people agree that in that way Giovanni could be given his marriage’s promise to his future wife. Nevertheless, the gesture itself is so familiar to us from iconic Christians form of art, that it could be considered indeed as blessing, but to whom. In addition, Giovonni face is represented in rather melancholic seriousness, did he bless his wife holding her one hand while his right hand pointed towards the Heaven or not.
That element couldn’t be missed, it’s captured in the most clear way possible imagined. The chandelier and the lack of kindle above Giovanni’s wife could be interpreted only as a death or untimely demise and loss. Therefore, we could see how the image of the death and the birth intertwined into each other in the picture. From the posture of the woman we are able to speculate about her pregnancy, despite the fact that at that time those kind of dress was widely worn. However, her hand’s gesture of protection is much more reassuring than anything else, she placed her hand in front of her belly while giving her right hand in the palm of her husband, looking at him in submissive peaceful manner.
The most fascinating object in the whole picture, we shouldn’t dismiss it. On the edges of the glass are illustrated ten series of Passion of Christ, another religious connection. But the most interesting part is hidden from our eyes and we are in power only to speculate about the glass’s reflection, which could be the key to the meaning of the painting. In general, the concave mirrors become symbol of mysticism and some secret invisible to the naked eyes. As we could see there two figures entering the room in which the man and woman stood, but who are they. The artist himself and a priest maybe or someone else, nobody knows for sure. However, the sensation that those two figures are welcoming rather than referred as intruders could only fuse the speculation of some anticipation something to be on the verge of happening.
Finally, we should bear in mind the fact that it was discovered that before the picture was finished or even made the woman on it had died. So practically , this is representation of both wedding ceremony and idealized farewell to her, as a form of giving the last blessing before the departure to the afterlife.