I was walking through the rooms of the National Gallery in London, searching for a certain Leonardo da Vinci painting, when I saw this one from a distance.
I think I actually might have stopped breathing for a little while, and then I walked really fast towards the small picture, to make sure it really was what I suspected.
And yes, it was the Arnolfini Portrait.
It's not at all a beautiful painting, at least I don't think so, (the guy looks sort of scary!) but it is extremely well done, it's packed with symbols, and it is very, very famous! Anyone who ever studied art history, has come across this at one point or another, and now I really had the feeling that I stood face to face with a world celebrity! My knees felt wobbly, and my throat dry.
A good thing paintings don't talk, because I wouldn't have a clue of what to say... I just stared - in awe.
The painter is Johannes Van Eyck, from the Netherlands, worked about 200 years before Vermeer, and this painting is dated 1434. It is a commissioned work, by the merchant Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini and his wife. It is known as a wedding portrait, or an engagement portrait, but it might have been only a ordinary husband & wife painting.
I think Van Eyck treated this as a wedding picture, and there are so many symbols who point in that direction:
Some of the marriage symbols:
- The dog stands for faithfullness
- The shoes left on the floor is an allusion to the word from the Bible, where God says: "Take off your sandals, for you're standing on on holy ground."
- The bed all draped in red – well, you got the picture...
Some fun details:
- The mirror in the background probably shows the artist himself while he is painting the couple.
- The "graffiti" text on the wall says "Johannes van Eyck was here."
I felt giddy when I continued my gallery walk. Unexpected, I had met someone real famous!