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

Van Eyck's painting of the Arnolfini Marriage is famous for the circular mirror that hangs on the wall behind the couple.

The mirror is the focal point of the whole composition. It has often been noted that two tiny figures can be seen reflected in it, their image captured as they cross the threshold of the room. They are the painter himself and a young man, perhaps arriving to act as witnesses to the marriage. The essential point, however, is the fact that the convex mirror is able to absorb and reflect in a single image both the floor and the ceiling of the room, as well as the sky and the garden outside, both of which are otherwise barely visible through the side window. The mirror thus acts as a sort of hole in the texture of space. It sucks the entire visual world into itself, transforming it into a representation.

It is uncertain that the picture depicts an actual marriage ceremony. The Lain inscription on the back wall, 'Jan van Eyck was here/1434', has been interpreted as the artist's witness to their marriage, but may simply attest to his authorship of the painting,his creation of 'here'.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.