Arnolfini Portrait

Arnolfini Portrait

Artist Jan van Eyck

Date 1434

Movement Northern Renaissance

Medium Oil on panel

Dimensions 33 x 22.5″ 

Housed at The National Gallery, London


Scholars debate as to what exactly is happening in this portrait—some believe it depicts a marriage (possibly of Giovanni Arnolfini to Giovanna Cenami) and others see it as a memorial to Arnolfini’s wife, who died in child birth. The piece is littered with symbolic devices—the dog (latin, “fido”) infers loyalty; the man’s raised hand perhaps indicates an oath-taking; the woman holding up her dress may reveal her wish for children; the bed may symbolize the consummation of the marriage; the fruit may represent the couple’s wealth; the shoes in the lower, left corner may indicate this scene or event as a holy one.


Above the mirror, an inscription reads “Jan van Eyck was here, 1434”. Within the mirror itself, we can see the reflection of the couple but two other men as well; perhaps one is the woman’s father, and the other is van Eyck himself, acting as a witness to whatever ceremony is taking place.