One of the most noteworthy northern European writers of the Renaissance was the Flemish painter, Jan van Eyck. Although there are few records about his early life and rise to prominence, the Van Eyck family was well regarded within the Burgundian Netherlands which allowed historians to surmise that he was born in the 1380s. After years of travelling through various northern courts and gaining esteem, Jan van Eyck painted perhaps his most famous work, The Arnolfini Double Portrait. This work has been the subject of a great deal of critical analysis as a piece of Renaissance art. Some historians have found that the work is demonstrative of artistic and social ideals that were both ahead of its time and touted the line of controversy. However, taking into account the painting’s patronage, symbolism, artistic style, and function, it becomes clear that The Arnolfini Double Portrait is an exemplar of the Renaissance era artistic conventions and is not as difficult to parse as some critics would believe. In order to discuss the painting in its entirety, it is necessary to explore the context of the painting’s creation.
The Arnolfini Double Portrait was dated 1434, and was likely completed in the same year. The medium for the painting was oil paint on oak panel, and is one of the few surviving panels from fifteenth century northern Europe. While the identity of the sitters for the painting is still a subject of debate amongst scholars, it is typically accepted that the male subject is Giovanni Arnolfini and the female subject was his wife. After all, Arnolfini was a successful Italian merchant with the means to commission such a painting, and was later used as a sitter for another of Van Eyck’s painting. The general consensus in the ...
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