Arnolfini Wedding. Jan van Eyck (Maaseyck, 1390 – Bruges, 1441).
Jan van Eyck represents here a Gothic couple. He is Giovanni Arnolfini, an Italian trader who was living in Bruges, and his wife, Giovanna Cenami, daughter of other Italian trader.
Then, they are burghers, an emerging class in Flemish regions, and still unknown in the rest of Europe.
But they have a strange attitude, which must mean something.
The composition is divided in two parts by an imaginary axis which would join the lamp hanging from the ceiling, the mirror on the back wall, and the little dog.
On the right side is the wife, the sweet wife dressed in green (the color of the hope) and wearing a black veil (symbol of purity). Her green gown contrasts with the red background: precisely a bed, the place for intimacy and love.
In the headboard of the bed, there is a dragon, carved in wood. It represents protection in pregnancy. The brush is a charm to clean bad influences.
On the left side is the husband with similar symbols. A rosary (protection) and fruits (fertility).
In the middle, some objects and symbols shared for both of them: the stainless mirror (without sins), the dog (loyalty) and the lamp with a candle burning (like in a holy church).
In fact, the whole scene has a holy atmosphere and some art historians (Panofsky, for example) have suggested that this painting is a marriage certificate: Giovanni Arnolfini is swearing and has one raised hand and, also, both of them are feetless.
Furthermore, the painter signs “Johannes van Eyck fuit hic” (Jan van Eyck was here) instead of the usual “me pixit” (painted this). Therefore, van Eyck was a wedding witness.
Figures rigidity is enhanced by the importance of the drawing over the color and people seem religious sculptures: hieratic world, like the Egypt or Romanic representations, like every religious art. No doubt, it’s a holly moment.
Now a days, “Arnolfini Wedding” is in the National Gallery of London. It’s an oil on panel (Jan van Eyck, or perhaps his whole family of artists, invented the oil technique with the following success). It’s dated in 1434, in Bruges. Then, we are in the beginning of the Renaissance, of the Flemish Renaissance, similar and different to the Italian one.
Similar in search a correct perspective. Jan van Eyck highlights the vanishing lines of the drawing and he deepens the room with the famous mirror which hangs on the wall. What is it reflecting?… The viewers!! Us!! (A clear antecedent of Las Meninas by Diego de Velazquez).
But Flemish Renaissance was different too. Because Flemish society was different. They were merchants and bankers, and not nobles or priests. They loved money and businesses and not coats of arms or surnames. Then, for the first time in the history, an artist, Jan van Eyck, is painting the middle class. And he paints them like important people, surrounded by a holy atmosphere. It’s the beginning of a new world and Jan van Eyck is its painter, the first to see how would be the future.