What are three of the symbols in The Arnolfini Double Portrait by Jan Van Eyck that reveal the possible iconography of the work?

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epic-art-time | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Assistant Educator

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The Arnolfini Double Portrait, sometimes referred to as Giovanni Arnolfini and his Bride, by Jan Van Eyck is filled with symbols related to Christianity, love, fertility, and loyalty.  Three of the most significant symbols in the painting are the ‘eye of God’ mirror, the position and posture of the couple, and the dog.

The circular mirror is located in the very center of the painting emphasizing its importance.  It is surrounded by a frame that contains miniatures depicting events from Christ’s passion, which immediately directs the viewer to thoughts of God.  You can see reflected in the convex mirror, the backs of the couple, as well as the reflection of two people bearing witness to the marriage. Art historian’s think that one of these people is probably an image of Van Eyck himself as he paints the portrait.  The mirror is a symbol of the all-seeing eye of God, watching everything that is going on.

The depicted posture of Arnolfini and his wife is also an important symbol.  The woman is painted further back in the room to suggest her domestic place as mistress of the home.  Arnolfini’s posture suggests authority and dominance, and the position of his right hand suggests a blessing gesture.  His wife is portrayed as submissive but not unequal to her husband.  Instead of looking down, she is looking into her husband’s eyes.  Arnolfini himself is looking out of the picture at the world.  This and his position by the open window could be interpreted as a symbol of his position outside of the home.

The dog is the simplest of these symbols.  It represents the loyalty that now exists between the new husband and his wife.  It is even located directly between the two.  The dog has always been a symbol of fidelity.  Even the popular dog name Fido comes from the Latin word that means ‘to trust.’

You can find an in-depth analysis of this painting on the eNotes/Wikipedia page linked below, and on page 660-1 of Gardner’s Art Through the Ages (edition 10.)

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