Breaking Down Art History: Lectures of Fidelity

Giovanni Arnolfini and His Wife is a painting by Jan Van Eyck during the Early Renaissance period in Europe. The painting depicts Giovanni Arnolfini, the Lucca financier “(who had established himself in Bruges as an agent of the Medici family),” along with his second wife, whose name is unknown (Kleiner). It is implied that the couple are taking their marriage vows, as we see Arnolfini raising his right hand. It is also noted that every object represents something to do with the setting. For example, the dog represents fidelity, representing faithfulness and loyalty. There is a tiny statue on the bed of Saint Margaret, who is the patron saint of childbirth. It appears that the wife is pregnant by the way she holds her drapes to her stomach, but she is not. What is so mysterious, is the placement of the mirror and the words that are written above it.

What does it mean?

Art historians have speculated that “the room in which Arnolfini and his wife stand in a public reception area, not a bed chamber” and that perhaps “Arnolfini is conferring legal privileges on his wife to conduct business in his absence” (Kleiner). In the mirror, we see the two people, one of which must be Van Eyck himself, as above the mirror, the writing says “Johannes de Eyck fuit hic” or “Jan van Eyck was here.” According to Fred Kleiner, this signature also “underscores the painter’s self-consciousness as a professional artist whose role deserves to be recorded and remembered.” Still today, this painting carries a lot of mystery, as we do not know the name of his wife or what action here is really taking place.

KLEINER, F. R. E. D. S. (n.d.). Gardner’s Art through the ages: A concise global history. CENGAGE LEARNING.

Published by Elizabeth Hawkins

Fine Arts and ECM Major Creative Writing Minor Artist, Friend, Gamer, Island Wanderer, Shark Enthusiast. Protect Our Oceans.

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