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“Arnolfini Portrait” by Jan van Eyck

Van Eyck - Arnolfini Portrait

“Arnolfini Portrait” by Jan van Eyck is a full-length double portrait, depicting the Italian merchant Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini and his wife, in their home in the Flemish city of Bruges. Arnolfini was a member of a merchant family from Lucca living in Bruges, as an agent of the Medici family. The couple is depicted in their prosperous home. This masterpiece is considered one of the most original and sophisticated paintings in our heritage of early oil paintings.

This painting is famous for its elaborate symbolism, detailed rendering, geometric perspective, use of light, and for the various detailed elements in the painting, such as the mirror, to create a realistic space. The vibrant colours highlight the material wealth and opulence of the subject’s world. Van Eyck quest for realism means he probably employed a magnifying glass to paint the minute details such as the highlights inf the amber beads hanging beside the mirror and the smaller pictures within the mirror’s surround.

The painting is full of everyday details and symbolism. Van Eyck has injected symbolism throughout the painting such as the little dog, which symbolises fidelity. And the bedpost’s crowning ornament is a tiny statue of Saint Margaret, who is the patron saint of childbirth.

The ornate Latin signature under the mirror translates as ‘Jan van Eyck was here 1434’. Jan van Eyck was a Flemish painter active in Bruges. He is one of the most significant representatives of Northern Renaissance art.  The “Arnolfini Portrait” together with his “Ghent Altarpiece” are the oldest panel masterpieces that were executed in oils rather than in tempera. Van Eyck took advantage of the longer drying time of oil paint, compared to tempera, to blend colours as wet paint to achieve variations in light and shade to create the illusion of three-dimensional depictions.


Essential Facts:

Artist Essential Facts:

  • Name:                  Jan van Eyck
  • Born:                    1390
  • Died:                    1441
  • Nationality:        Dutch
  • Movement:         Northern Renaissance
  • Notable works:
    • Portrait of a Man
    • Arnolfini Portrait
    • Ghent Altarpiece
    • Annunciation
    • Virgin and Child with Canon van der Paele


“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” William Shakespeare



Photo Credit: 1) Jan van Eyck [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons