The Moment of Faith–Analysis on Jan Van Eyck's The Betrotha

Of all the early Flemish paintings, few are as famous as Jan Van Eyck's The Betrothal of Arnolfini. Its unsurpassed solemnity and painstaking details have epitomized the essence of the early traditions of the Netherlandish art.Finished in 1434, the painting stands 85 cm x 63 cm and is painted on wood. It originally belongs to Margaret of Austria, whose well-documented inventory description reads, "A large painting said to be Hernoul le Fin with his wife within a chamber, which was given to Madame by Don Diego, whose arms are on the cover of this picture made by the painter Johannes.” (Dhanens, 195) From this script, the male on the left side of the picture has traditionally been identified as Giovanni Arnolfini, a wealthy and prominent Lucchese merchant living in Bruges until 1472.The female on the right is said to be Giovanna Cenami, the daughter of another successful Lucchese merchant. The contemporary law in the fifteenth century recognizes the validity of a marriage even without any written documents or marriage ceremonies, provided the parties are of equal rank and their consent can be confirmed by the testimony of friends. (Gies, 293) Therefore, this particular painting in which Giovanni Arnolfini holds the right hand of his bride solemnly is often interpreted as a sacred testimony of their betrothal. With his masterful incorporation of appearance, gestures, setting, and objects, Jan Van Eyck ingeniously captures this solemn moment in which a man and a woman is united by faith under God with pictorial elements of sacredness, intimacy, and blessing of fertility.
In the Betrothal of Arnolfini Van Eyck's precise treatment of the appearance of his characters brings out the reality in a domestic marriage between the two well-respected family. Arnolfini is attired in a black, velvety coat with a sleeveless, fur-trimmed tunic and an enormous wide-brimmed hat.He looks both fashionable and well to do.It is …


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