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.
The Arnolfini portrait, painted by Jan van Eyck in 1434, and now in the National Gallery, London, is one of the world’s most famous paintings. It intrigues all who see it. Scholars and public alike have puzzled over the meaning of this haunting gem of medieval art, a subtleand 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 several 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.