Why not?

It’s nothing to do with the Regency, or books, or writing. Just a painting I like, The Arnolfini Marriage aka The Marriage of Giovanni Arnolfini and Giovanna Cenami painted in 1434 by Jan van Eyck. The original is in the National Gallery in London, and is surprisingly small and modest (about 30″ x 20″). What I like about this painting is its sense of mystery and the huge amount of symbolism the ordinary household objects convey; and also its sense of intimacy as though you’re peeping through an open door at the marriage ceremony.

The candle burning in daylight represents the all-seeing Eye of God; the image of St. Margaret, the patron saint of childbirth, is carved on the back of the bed, and the fruit on the window ledge represent both fertility and the fall from the Garden of Eden. The dog is a symbol of fidelity, and the discarded shoes a symbol of humility. A bird flying outside represents the Holy Spirit.

If you poke around online you’ll quite easily find some hi-res images of this painting, and be able to zoom in on a closeup of the mirror. There you can see the reflection of the artist and another figure–witnesses to the marriage? The amount of detail is fabulous–the decorative projections of the mirror each represent a meticulously painted religious scene. The mirror itself is convex and represents the room–and more, the sky and garden outside.

Wow. If I were feeling more clever tonight, I might draw some sort of conclusion between what van Eyck is doing and what writers try to do, the creation of worlds within worlds. Showing everything but keeping that sense of mystery.

That’s all.


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3 Responses to Why not?

  1. I’ve seen this painting in Art books. I’m impressed at the symbolism. I had no idea it was there. I was just always struck with the fact that the marriage is happening when the lady is very much with child!

  2. I love this painting, Janet. I remember an art history class in college (I took as many interesting electives as I could before my parents cut me off!) where one whole class period was spent analyzing the details and symbolism. It was fascinating. I’m just sorry I haven’t yet had the chance to see it “in person”

  3. Elena Greene says:

    It’s wonderful when a writer manages to include details with layers of meaning. They have a subliminal effect, I think, even if not all readers recognize them.

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