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Renaissance Top 48: Giovanni Arnolfini and His Bride


Jan Van Eyk, Giovanni Arnolfini and His Bride, 1434.


This piece represents flemish life in the 15th century. It shows the sanctity of marriage, as well as who the power belonged to within the couple. Key factors that influenced the art of northern Europe during the 15th century included: capitalism and the marker economy, the 100-years war, northern Europe was dominated by the church, and private devotional activities. In northern Europe the use of oils were more common as opposed to the use of temperas in Italy. Finally, this area was very interested in representing detail and fine lines. 


This painting references secular and religious ideas. Almost every object portrayed depicts the sanctity of the event. This picture is of Arnolfini taking his wife in marriage. We as the audience are like the witnesses, and Arnolfini staring straight at us grabs our attention as well as shows who has the power. He not only has the power in the relationship with the viewer, but with his wife as well. It is interesting that there is this separation between them because this is supposed to portray such a unified moment. In the convex mirror there are two other people, one of whom we can assume is the painter. The curtains are slightly open to signify what will happen. In addition, the fact that his shoes have been removed often signify this is a hallowed ground. The dog on the floor in front of the couple signifies fidelity. Things as detailed as the oranges have significances such as since it was an expensive fruit at the time it could have represented fertility or wealth. The light from the window is very strong from the side, and the mirror has 11 points, which has images to represent their passion of christ. Since the candle only has one lit candle, it is thought to have represented the presence of god. Another small accessory was the beads that are hanging on the wall, which is a common wealthy-person gift to the bride. Finally, the top piece of the bed has a carving of st. margaret (a symbol of child birth), and the broom leaning on the bed shows her domestic life. She is next to the bed, and he is next to the window because she will continue a domestic lifestyle after they are married and he will explore the world outside of their home. 



Gardners Art Through the Ages 12th Edition p. 560



This painting by Jan Van Eyk was created with oil on wood. The painting is approximately 2 feet by 1 foot, and the lines in the painting are extremely fine. The light is clearly coming from the window on the left, and the lines give each image a defined texture.


The painting provides insight into Van Eycks skill and is a source of information about Flemish life in the 15th century. 


Dog: fidelity (loyalty)

Curtains open: signify what was going to happen

Shoes: taken off is symbolic of hallowed ground

Positioning: She’s next to the bed (stays at home) he’s next to the window (he’ll be out exploring the world)

Orange= expensive fruit (fertility, wealth)

Chandelier: one candle lit- gods presence

Mirror: 11 points (image of passion of christ)

Beads on the wall= common gift (for marriage) from a wealthy man to his bride

Top piece on the bed has a carving of st. margaret (symbol of child birth)

Broom on bed= domestic life