Van Eyck, a Northern European Renaissance painter, is one of my favorite artist. It's possible to spend hours in front of his paintings because of the amount of details!
Such is the case of the "'Arnolfini and his Wife" painting. Despite its title, nobody is really sure about the subject: It is believed the couple depicts Giovanni Arnolfini and his wife, merchants from Lucca in Italy, but dates discrepancies, between documents surrounding the painting, make the subject difficult to understand. There is this idea, among Art Historians, that the painting could have been part of a legal marriage contract. Is it Arnolfini's first or second marriage? The chandelier on the ceiling has only one candle with a flame on the side of the husband, but not on the side of the wife. Certain dates would make the first wife dead at the moment the painting was finished, suggesting that it could have been also a commemorative portrait. She seems also to be pregnant, and the hand of the husband looks like a blessing towards her belly. She is the main focus of attention, receives the most light and her green dress contrasts with the red color of the bed. There is an expression of a Divine in the picture about marriage.
This masterpiece is an oil painting on oak panel. (32"x24""). I know Van Eyck had assistants, but it must have taken a long time to finish it! Plus, oil painting takes a long time to dry and the basic technique was to apply a layer of transparent paint on top of the other. I cannot imagine the amount of work and patience! The treatment of cloth and jewelry is outstanding!
There are two details that attract my attention (among many!) : The first is the mirror in the center. It creates another dimension, almost saying "there is more to the story". The other is the dog at the bottom center representing fidelity.
I like to think that this dog has more meaning. He has such personality, he probably was part of the family. The wealthy women of this period had often lapdog as companions. He almost smiles, showing how happy he is! He actually looks happier that the couple who looks so serious! And he is the only one looking at us, inviting us to be part of the moment! Each hair seems to be painted separately. There are thin brush strokes of different colors, grey, ochre, white and red against a dark, almost black background, that gives an effect of fluffiness.
When I looked at the painting for the first time, I found it somber (Arnolfini’s face is a little strange). But now I think the opposite and it’s because of the little dog! I don’t think it was just part a legal marriage contract, my guess is that it’s a commemorative portrait. To celebrate his wife, Arnolfini had one of the most famous Artist of his time to celebrate her memory.