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About the book
  • Published: 18 September 2012
  • ISBN: 9780099526896
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 272
  • RRP: $22.99

Girl in a Green Gown

The History and Mystery of the Arnolfini Portrait

A fascinating exploration of one our best loved paintings, and the strange, dramatic history of its owners through time with a foreword by Grayson Perry.

The Arnolfini portrait, painted by Jan van Eyck in 1434, is one of the world’s most famous paintings. It intrigues all who see it. Scholars and the public alike have puzzled over the meaning of this haunting gem of medieval art, a subtle and beautiful double portrait of a wealthy Bruges merchant and his wife. The enigmatic couple seem to be conveying a message to us across the centuries, but what? Is the painting the celebration of marriage or pregnancy, a memorial to a wife who died in childbirth, a fashion statement or a status symbol? Using her acclaimed forensic skills as an art historian, Carola Hicks set out to decode the mystery, uncovering a few surprises along the way. She also tells the fascinating story of the painting’s survival through fires, battles, hazardous sea journeys, and its role as a mirror reflecting the culture and history of the time – from jewel of the Hapsburg empire to Napoleonic war trophy. Uniquely, for a masterpiece this old, it can be tracked through every owner, from the mysterious Mr Arnolfini via various monarchs to a hard-up Waterloo war hero, until it finally came to rest in 1842 as an early star of the National Gallery. These owners all have cameo parts in this enthralling story of how an artwork of genius can speak afresh to each new generation.

  • Pub date: 18 September 2012
  • ISBN: 9780099526896
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 272
  • RRP: $22.99

About the Author

Carola Hicks

Carola Hicks, an acclaimed art historian, and witty, perceptive writer, died in 2010 just as she was finishing Girl in a Green Gown: The History and Mystery of the Arnolfini Portrait. Born in Sussex, Carola studied archaeology at Edinburgh University, and was an actress, journalist and House of Commons Researcher, before taking up an academic career. For several years she was curator of the Stained Glass Museum at Ely Cathedral, and then became a Fellow and Director of Studies in art history at Newnham College, Cambridge. Her books include Animals in Early Medieval Art, Improper Pursuits: The Scandalous Life of Lady Di Beauclerk, and two fine 'biographies' of works of art: The Bayeux Tapestry: The Life Story of a Masterpiece and The King's Glass: A Story of Tudor Power and Secret Art.

Also by Carola Hicks

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Praise for Girl in a Green Gown

“I was bowled over... It is a book of page-turning vignettes”

Daily Telegraph

“Exploring the double portrait in revelatory detail, Hicks presents a truly inspiring picture of her own”

The Times

“The book has sent me back to the painting...with wider and more inquisitive eyes”

Peter Conrad, Observer

“An author who opens our eyes, deepens our understanding and makes us keen to look again”

Frances Spalding, Daily Mail

“Hicks tells a truly fascinating story about image and ownership, based on diligent, well-digested research”

Vera Ryan, Irish Times

“A brilliantly idiosyncratic investigation which alternates chapters internal to the picture (the fashions, the furniture, the oranges, the mirror) with chapters on its production and historical meanderings”

Lynn Roberts, Tablet

“Meticulously weaving an analysis of the portrait with chapters devoted to political and social history”

Fisun Guner, Metro

“Hicks writes effortlessly, with a vast amount of information at her fingertips”

Jerry Brotton, BBC History Magazine


Gillian Tindal, Literary Review

“This beautifully written book is a splendid testament to the intelligence, attention to detail, depth of research, and down to earth vision of a first rate scholar”

Theodore K Rabb, Times Literary Supplement

“There are still interesting things to be said about Van Eyck's great double portrait”

Michael Glover, Independent, Books of the Year

“Exploring the double-portrait image in often revelatory detail, Hicks presents a truly inspiring picture of her own”

Erica Wagner, The Times, Books of the Year

“No-one can write, and explain, like Hicks. Here her mastery is complete”


“This impressive work of art historical scholarship is in every way as engaging as its subject”

Peter Murray, Irish Examiner

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