EYCK, Jan van
(b. before 1395, Maaseik, d. before 1441, Bruges)

Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife (detail)

Oil on oak
National Gallery, London

The central motif of the painting, the so-called 'joining of hands', has long been recognized as a special gesture with a specific meaning. It has been the subject of debate for decades. There are several descriptions like 'mutually clasped hands', 'the woman is holding the man's left hand', 'hands reaching out towards each other" etc.

The portrayal of the woman's open right palm, facing the viewer, must have been very important to the painter, so much so, that he drew the man's left arm somewhat incorrectly: it is too short and the slightly upward turning wrist is anatomically incorrect. As an explanation it is therefore assumed that the open palm is an allusion to the marriage engagement.