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Van Eyck – The Arnolfini Portrait

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Jan van Eyck: The Arnolfini Portrait: 1434

While Uccello was experimenting with perspective in Italy, over in the Netherlands Van Eyck was surpassing him. We’re looking into a room, we can see the depth of it, with the lines of the floorboards leading us into the picture. The mirror reflects the room back at us, and Van Eyck uses light and shade to create the illusion of the figures and the objects being in three dimensions. It is a domestic scene – it appears to be a moment of real life with these two people and the objects that they own that has been captured for us.

A couple of other innovative features – it is a portrait, a new type of painting where individuals would commission a picture of themselves; and it’s the first we’ve seen today that uses oil paints rather than egg tempera. Oils dry more slowly and allow more subtle and deeper colours, and much greater detail; Van Eyck would build up thin layers of paint to distinguish the various textures and surfaces. On the woman’s green dress, you can virtually feel the weight and richness of the fabric, and on the dog you can see the individual hairs.

So who are we looking at, and what does this represent? Continue reading