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The Renaissance, as it is known in Europe, is generally dated to around 1400, so Van Eyck's painting of the bridal couple, dated 1434, fits well within that range. This period of "rebirth" as it is sometimes called, was characterized by a return to the ideas of ancient Greece and Rome, as well as a newfound interest in the scientific study of the human body, and the world surrounding it. In both art and literature, scholars and amateurs alike endeavored to depict the elements of nature as realistically and as accurately as possible.
Van Eyck was one of the first to recognize the value of oil on stretched canvas as a means to creating textures and three dimensional forms on a flat plane. In the Arnolfini painting, he uses this technique to create a portrait of the betrothed couple standing in a bedroom appointed with bedclothes and accessories that demonstrate their affluent status. While there has been some debate as to whether Arnolfini's fiancee was pregnant, or simply holding up heavy skirts, there can be no mistaken the overt domesticity of the scene: the bed, the mirror, the window, shoes tossed aside, cat in the foreground. While a closer examination of these elements would reveal that they were carefully chosen for symbolic purposes, to the average viewer, this painting was about as close as one could get to capturing a domestic scene without a camera.
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