top of page

Jan van Eyck - The Arnolfini Wedding

by Alexandra Tuschka

A small, full-figure double portrait shows a couple holding hands. The artist testifies with this painting that he was present at the wedding of the merchant Giovanni Arnolfini.

It is a morganatic, an unequal marriage, recognizable by the fact that the husband gives his left hand to his wife. The lady is of lesser status than the gentleman. The groom, Giovanni Arnolfini, in turn presents the free palm of his spouse to the viewer as a sign of her innocence and devotion. He has raised his right hand in a gesture of blessing; a traditional gesture in the context of marriage.

The lady's clothing is misleading, as her bulging belly was often mistaken for pregnancy, but only symbolically refers to fertility. A pregnancy before the wedding would have been a disgrace for those times anyway and hardly worthy of a picture. The wealth of the merchant is made clear by the inventory: carpets, furs, oranges and spices from the Mediterranean decorate the picture.

The painting has some subtleties: The mirror in the background shows the couple from behind. Here you can also see that there are other people present. The frame of the mirror shows Christi's passion journey and refers to the faith of those present.

Other symbolic motifs complement the picture: the dog serves as a symbol of faithfulness, the discarded shoes in the left foreground are a symbol of domesticity. Only one candle burns on the candelabra, indicating the presence of God. The pearl necklace next to the mirror symbolizes the purity of the bride and the small carved wooden figure depicts St. Margaret, the patron saint, of, ironically, pregnant women and virgins.

Jan van Eyck - The Arnolfini Wedding

Oil on wood, 1434, 81.8 × 59.7 cm, National Gallery in London


bottom of page