There are many things about Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait which are uncertain. Often referred to as the Arnolfini Marriage Portrait, it probably isn’t of a marriage, the woman is not pregnant, that isn’t their bedroom (despite the presence of a bed) and that probably isn’t even Giovanni Arnolfini either.
Although there as almost as many theories about the picture as there are art historians to study it, the Arnolfini Portrait remains – even in its mystery – a wonderful example of Northern Renaissance painting, painted in oils on panel in 1434. It is surprisingly small, as anyone will testify who has tried to view it in London’s National Gallery from behind a group of Italian students committing its image to their iPhones .
A comment that the picture might represent a ‘left-handed marriage’, one where the wife is of a lower social or financial class to the husband, led me to produce this deconstruction some years ago. My partner, Sarah, asked me to post it as it is one of her favourites, and she felt my blog would be lacking a certain art historical gravitas without it.
I was drawn to Arno’s big hat, the weird little dog and those wonderful (and expensive, in their day, like Birkenstocks now) house shoes. Mrs A seemed more like an innocent bystander or a commodity than an equal partner in the proceedings, the ‘little woman’ if you like. It seems somehow fitting for International Women’s Day to highlight this six hundred year old inequality. Just as in the original there are enigmas a-plenty, so too in my deconstruction: apples. There are no apples in the original, only oranges.
This one’s for you, Sarah.