A kind of magic
The art historian EH Gombrich described the Arnolfini Portrait as “a simple corner of the real world … fixed on to a panel as if by magic”. Renaissance painters were in a race to translate real life into a convincing likeness in paint, and Van Eyck was the master illusionist. From the hairs on the funny little dog to the biblical scenes behind glass in the convex mirror’s frame, he created incredibly detailed images, painting with a magnifying glass.
The simple life?
This painting is by no measure “a simple corner”. Its couple, believed to be the Italian merchant Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini and his wife Jeanne de Chenany, are decked out as expensively and stylishly as any celebrity wedding shoot in Hello!. The sable furs, his velvet tabard, her sumptuous dress (she’s not pregnant, those voluminous folds were fashionable), the outsize chandelier and more,