The Arnolfini Portrait, Jan van Eyck

The Arnolfini Portrait

ArtistJan van Eyck

TitleThe Arnolfini Portrait
Size; 82.2 cm × 60 cm     Medium; Oil on oak panel                        
Date; 1434                      LocationNational Gallery, London
Subject; "Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife"  Genre; full-length Portrait                                

Line; Flowing detail, delicate skin-tones

Tone; Subtle and harmonious throughout the painting

Texture;  fine, smooth from layered paint

Shape;  curvaceous, geometric, elongated

Contrast; Dramatic, subtle, strong

Colour; Vibrant, rich intensity


The Arnolfini Portrait or The Arnolfini Wedding, The Arnolfini Marriage, or full title "Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife" 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, probably in their Flemish city residence in Bruges residence.

It is considered one of the supreme and intricate paintings in Western art. This must be one of the most famous and intriguing paintings in the world. A richly dressed man and woman stand in a private room. They are probably Giovanni di Nicolao di Arnolfini, an Italian merchant working in Bruges, and his wife, in a lavishly decorated room which showcases their opulent wealth. According to Ernst Gombrich "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". 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 implemented in oils rather than in tempera. The painting was bought by the National Gallery in London in 1842.

Although the room is entirely plausible, close examination reveals inconsistencies: there’s not enough space for the chandelier, and no sign of a fireplace. Moreover, every piece has been prudently chosen to proclaim the couple’s wealth and social status without chancing.

The man’s hand is raised, seemingly in greeting. On the back wall, a large convex mirror reflects two men coming into the room, one of whom also raises his arm. Directly above it is Van Eyck’s signature. Could the man in mirror be van Eyck himself, with his servant?

At first glance, The Arnolfini Portrait stands out for the intensity of its colour palette. On the left side of the piece, the man dons a heavy blue-black coat with fur trim, and on the right, his wife wears an emerald overdress with textured sleeves. Each article of clothing and piece of jewellery seems to glow on the canvas.

Van Eyck achieved this depth of colour by using the wet-on-wet technique, in which he added layers of wet paint before the previous layers have dried. This allowed him to expertly blend colours and create a sense of three-dimensionality on the canvas. Additionally, the artist applied layers of translucent glazes to the painting to accentuate not only the realism of the figures but also the luxury of the home.

Jan van Eyck was active artist from 1422 until he died in 1441

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