Object Image

Portrait of Giovanni(?) Arnolfini and his Wife

This must be one of the most famous and intriguing paintings in the world. A richly dressed man and woman stand in a private room. They are probably Giovanni di Nicolao di Arnolfini, an Italian merchant working in Bruges, and his wife.

Although the room is totally plausible - as if Jan van Eyck had simply removed a wall - close examination reveals inconsistencies: there's not enough space for the chandelier, and no sign of a fireplace. Moreover, every object has been carefully chosen to proclaim the couple's wealth and social status without risking criticism for aping the aristocracy.

The man's hand is raised, apparently in greeting. On the back wall, a large convex mirror reflects two men coming into the room, one of whom also raises his arm. Immediately above it is Van Eyck's signature. Could the man in mirror be van Eyck himself, with his servant, coming on a visit?

Credit: Bought, 1842

Oil on oak
82.2 x 60.0cm
Image and text © The National Gallery, London, 2024

Where you'll find this

National Gallery