Decoding the symbolic details in the painting

Decoding the symbolic details in the painting


Jan Van Eyck, “Portrait of Arnolfini,” 1434. (Photo: National Museum – Wikimedia Commons)

Nearly 100 years ago, the painter Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) completed the Mona Lisa painting, thereby, setting the standard for realistic portrait paintings using oil paints. Born in Belgium, painter Jan van Eyck (1390-1441) was one of the pioneers of oil painting, known for his detailed and meticulous works.

His most prominent work entitled ‘Portrait of Arnolfini’ is considered one of the symbols of Renaissance painting, it fully and skillfully conveys aesthetic concepts in addition to technological advances. art of Renaissance painting. One of them is the trend of using a bold color palette and the integration of metaphorical details, serving the purpose of conveying the story through the picture.

So what made Van Eyck’s painting career so successful? Why is ‘Portrait of Arnolfini’ considered a masterpiece of the Renaissance? Let’s explore with right in this article.

Nordic Renaissance Painting and Jan van Eyck


Jan Van Eyck, “Self-Portrait,” 1433. (Photo: National Museum – Wikimedia Commons)

In the 15th century, when Italian Renaissance artists were attempting a classical revival, Nordic Renaissance painting attracted artists in the North, from countries such as Belgium, Germany, France, and Belgium. Brother. Like their counterparts in the South, they also exploited realism but focused on painting and etching.

And the painter Jan van Eyck is considered one of the finest palm trees of the Nordic Renaissance. During his career, he performed many works of a religious nature. Although oil paintings are often not durable and Van Eyck’s works inevitably deteriorate over time, the artist is still well received because he was one of the first to exploit the value of color. and realistic themes.


Jan van Eyck and Hubert van Eyck, “Ghent Altarpiece,” 1432

Many believe that Da Lien Hoa is one of his first masterpieces in oil painting. Van Eyck and his brother Hubert (also an artist) took 10 years to complete the work. The painting that opposes the idealization in medieval painting towards realistic painting is rooted in the discoveries of the natural sciences.

The process of making ‘Portrait of Arnolfini’


Jan Van Eyck, “Portrait of Arnolfini,” 1434. (Photo: National Museum – Wikimedia Commons)

In 1434, about a year after completing the Polyphony of Art, Van Eyck began work on ‘Portrait of Arnolfini’ or better known as ‘The Wedding of Arnolfini’. The painting depicts a wealthy merchant – Giovanni di Nicolau di Arnolfini and his newlywed wife in a lavishly lavish room – showing the couple’s wealth.

At first sight, ‘Portrait of Arnolfini’ has made a strong impression on viewers with its bold and outstanding colors. On the left is a man wearing a thick dark blue cloak with a stylized fur collar, on the right is his wife in an emerald dress with prominent sleeves. Every detail from the clothes to the jewelry of the two main characters stands out in the drawing.

To achieve depth in color, Van Eyck uses a wet-on-wet technique – applying layers of watercolor when the previous one has dried. This technique allowed him to blend colors more easily and create a multi-dimensional effect on the image. In addition, he also creates a translucent effect to create the realism of the drawing, and at the same time, depicts the luxury of the house.

The image appears in the painting


Detailed image of hands holding each other (Photo: National Museum – Wikimedia Commons)

Although the identities of the characters are not revealed, from the woman’s outfit, one can guess that the two main characters appearing in the picture are a newlywed couple, by women in the 15th century. Only roll up your hair when you’re married. But contrary to what people think, the woman in the picture is not pregnant but is just holding a long pleated skirt, a contemporary custom.

However, the image of two hands holding each other is still a detail that causes many scholars. Some believe that the detail symbolizes the marriage contract while others believe it represents the consent of the man to allow his wife to exchange affairs on his behalf.


Detailed image of a convex mirror (Photo: National Museum – Wikimedia Commons)

Most of the objects in the room – from the chandelier, to the dyed fabric, to the imported food show off the couple’s wealth. In the back of the room is a convex mirror reflecting the reflections of two other figures, one of which looks a bit like Van Eyck. Some people think that the mirror represents God’s eyes observing the scene.

Above the mirror is a stylized Latin inscription ‘Jan van Eyck was here in 1434’. The inscription once again confirms the presence of the author in his own work.


Jan van Eyck’s message: “Jan van Eyck was here in 1434” (Image: National Museum – Wikimedia Commons)

Van Eyck’s color choices are also said to have hidden meanings. The woman’s blue dress symbolizes hope, possibly pregnancy. Meanwhile, the red curtain and the pillow support the intimacy of the couple. Below is a small dog symbolizing fidelity.


Detailed image of the chosen dog (Photo: National Museum Wikimedia Commons)

Taken as a whole, ‘Portrait of Arnolfini’ portrays a wealthy couple, while showcasing Van Eyck’s technique of using color, space, and clever storytelling – one of the best. the best face of Renaissance painting.

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