<<The Arnolfini Portrait (or The Arnolfini Wedding, The Arnolfini Marriage, the Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife, or other titles) is a 1434 oil painting on oak panel by the Early Netherlandish painter Jan van Eyck. It forms a full-length double portrait, believed to depict the Italian merchant Giovanni di Nicolao 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, because of its beauty, complex iconography, geometric orthogonal perspective, and expansion of the picture space with the use of a mirror. The portrait has been considered by Erwin Panofsky and some other art historians as a unique form of marriage contract, recorded as a painting. Signed and dated by van Eyck in 1434, it is, with the Ghent Altarpiece by the same artist and his brother Hubert, the oldest very famous panel painting to have been executed in oils rather than in tempera.
Van Eyck used the technique of applying layer after layer of thin translucent glazes to create a painting with an intensity of both tone and colour. The glowing colours also help to highlight the realism, and to show the material wealth and opulence of Arnolfini's world. Van Eyck took advantage of the longer drying time of oil paint, compared to tempera, to blend colours by painting wet-in-wet to achieve subtle variations in light and shade to heighten the illusion of three-dimensional forms. The medium of oil paint also permitted van Eyck to capture surface appearance and distinguish textures precisely. He also rendered the effects of both direct and diffuse light by showing the light from the window on the left reflected by various surfaces. It has been suggested that he used a magnifying glass in order to paint the minute details such as the individual highlights on each of the amber beads hanging beside the mirror.
The small medallions set into the frame of the convex mirror at the back of the room show tiny scenes from the Passion of Christ and may represent God's promise of salvation for the figures reflected on the mirror's convex surface. The mirror itself may represent the eye of God observing the vows of the wedding. The mirror reflects two figures in the doorway, one of whom may be the painter himself.
According to one author "The painting is often referenced for its immaculate depiction of non-Euclidean geometry", referring to the image on the convex mirror. Assuming a spherical mirror, the distortion has been correctly portrayed, except for the leftmost part of the window frame, the near edge of the table and the hem of the dress.
The little dog symbolizes fidelity (fido), loyalty, or can be seen as an emblem of lust, signifying the couple's desire to have a child. Unlike the couple, he looks out to meet the gaze of the viewer.
The green of the woman's dress symbolizes hope, possibly the hope of becoming a mother. Her white cap could signify purity, but probably signifies her being married. Behind the pair, the curtains of the marriage bed have been opened; the red curtains might allude to the physical act of love between the married couple.
The single candle in the left-front holder of the ornate six-branched chandelier is possibly the candle used in traditional Flemish marriage customs. Lit in full daylight, like the sanctuary lamp in a church, the candle may allude to the presence of the Holy Ghost or the ever-present eye of God. Alternatively, Margaret Koster posits that the painting is a memorial portrait, as the single lit candle on Giovanni's side contrasts with the burnt-out candle whose wax stub can just be seen on his wife's side, evoking a common literary metaphor: he lives on, she is dead.
The cherries present on the tree outside the window may symbolize love. The oranges which lie on the window sill and chest may symbolize the purity and innocence that reigned in the Garden of Eden before the Fall of Man. They were uncommon and a sign of wealth in the Netherlands, but in Italy were a symbol of fecundity in marriage. The fruit could more simply be a sign of the couple's wealth since oranges were very expensive imports.>>