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A fascinating exploration of one our best loved paintings, and the strange, dramatic history of its owners through time. 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.


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

Full of intriguing information

Martin Gayford, Daily Telegraph

Girl in a Green Gown is a beguiling book

Rachel Campbell-Johnston, The Times

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

Peter Conrad, Observer

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

Vera Ryan, Irish Times

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Formats & editions

  • Paperback


    September 18, 2012


    272 pages

    RRP $24.99

    Online retailers

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    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • EBook


    November 1, 2011

    Vintage Digital

    272 pages

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