Jan Van Eyck - The Arnolfini PortraitOil on wood, 1434, 81,8 × 59,7 cm, National Gallery in London

Is she pregnant?


What did Jan van Eyck want to express here?

Jan van Eyck — The Arnolfini Portrait

A small, full-length double portray shows a couple holding hand. The artists testifies with this picture that he has been present at the weeding of the merchant Giovanni Arnolfini. It is a morganatic, unequal marriage, which is apparent by the husband giving his left hand to his wife. The lady is of lower birth than the gentlemen. The groom Giovanni Arnolfini presents the open palm of his brides hand as a sign of her innocence and devotion. He has lifted up his right hand as a gesture of blessing which is a traditional sign within the conclusion of wedding. The cloths of the lady are ambigious because of her curved belly, which has often been mistaken as a pregnancy but is only a symbol of fertility. A pregnancy before the wedding would have been a scandal in those times and rarely worthy of presentation on canvas. 

The wealth of the merchant is shown through the inventory: carpets, furs, oranges and spices from the Middle East grace the picture. The painting desplays a few extras: the mirror in the background shows the couple from behind. Through the mirror it can also been seen that there are more people present. The frame of the mirror shows the Passion Path of Christ and refers to the faith of the attendees.

More symbolic motives complement the whole picture. The dog is a symbol of loyalty. The shoes that have been put down in the left foreground are a symbol of domesticity. On the chandelier burns onls one candle and refers to the presence of God. The pearl necklace next to the mirror is a symbol for purity of the bride and the small carved wooden figure shows the holy Margareta, ironcially the patron saint of pregnant women and virgins. 


© the artinspector / alexandra tuschka