Panofskys views on Van Eyck

Panofsky's purpose in writing this article was to identify a painting discovered in Brussels in 1815 (referred to as the "London portrait") as the portrait of Geovanni Arnolfimi and his wife Jeanne de Cename, painted in 1434. Panofsky uses historical documentation and iconography to prove his point. Because a painting's value can be enhanced by its historical significance, it is important to discover its background. Identifying a painting from several centuries ago is not easy. Because there is no photocopy available, we must depend on physical descriptions provided by others for recognition. Only paintings possessed by rich or historically significant people would be described in inventories or letters saved over hundreds of years. Wars often brought destruction and chaos, destroying historical documentation.
Panofsky traces the "provenance" of this picture to provide a logical argument that the "London portrait" could be the Arnolfimi painting. He carefully documents the historical journey of the Arnolfimi painting, providing a continuous list of ownership from Don Diego de Guevara of Spain in the 1500's to Charles III in 1789. This careful documentation is to prove that the Amolfimi painting was still listed as being in Madrid in 1789. The timing of its disappearance and the subsequent discovery of the "London portrait" in Brussels in 1815 could easily be attributed to the chaos caused by Napoleon's conquering of Spain during the lost time period.
Since written documentation is often used as proof of historical happenings, it is very important that the content be interpreted correctly, within its historical context. Because a language translation can easily twist the content's meaning, scholars usually provide a quote in the language of its origin. In Panofsky's era, most research scholars were fluent in German, French, and Latin. Today fluency in English is a…


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