The Marriage of Giovanni Arnolfini and Giovanna Cenami; 1434 (130 Kb); Oil on wood, 81.8 x 59.7 cm (32 1/4 x 23 1/2 in); National Gallery, London
This title has traditionally been given to this painting because it was thought to be a form of ``wedding certificate'' for Giovanni Arnolfini and Giovanna Cenami, who married in Bruges in 1434. He was an Italian merchant, she the daughter of an Italian merchant. Their grave, youthful faces both have a lovely responsability that is typical of van Eyck.
From top to bottom:
The solitary flame burning in bright daylight can be interpreted as the bridall candle, or God's all-seeing eye, or simply as a devotional candle. Another symbol is St Margaret (the patron saint of women in childbirth), whose image is carved on the high chairback.
As today, marriages in 15th-century Flanders could take place privately rather than in church. Van Eyck's Latin signature, in the Gothic calligraphy used for legal documents, reads: ``Jan van Eyck was present'', and has been interpreted by some as an indication that the artist himself served as a witness.
The Arnolfini Marriage
1434; detail: the ornate mirror on the back wall
The mirror is painted with almost miraculous skill. Its carved frame is inset with ten miniature medallions depicting scenes from the life of Christ. Yet more remarkable is the mirror's reflection, which includes van Eyck's own tiny self-portrait, accompanied by another man who may have been the official witness to the ceremony.
Almost every detail can be interpreted as a symbol. The companion dog is seen as a symbol of faithfulness and love. The fruits on the window ledge probably stand for fertility and our fall from Paradise. Even the discarded shoes are not thought to be incidental, but to signify the sanctity of marriage.