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Video transcript

we're in the National Gallery and we're looking at Yan Van Dyke's portrait of well I learned this painting as the Arnolfini wedding portrait so today but there's been a lot of scholarship subsequently yeah and there's a lot of disagreement over what this painting actually represents but the National Gallery which probably represents the most authoritative view right now are the most widely accepted says that in fact this is not an actual wedding taking place or being witnessed as you and I were taught but that it's simply a double portrait of a couple who are already married some scholars have suggested that perhaps a memorial portrait and the woman on the right actually had passed away the previous year but it's that's only one of a variety of theories we're not even sure which Arnolfini this actually is what we do know is that whoever's represented here was an Italian merchant who worked in Bruges and Bruges was a thriving economic town in the early 15th century and his wealth is quite apparent throughout this portrait in a way the portrait is about his wealth everything from both of their clothing to the furnishings of the house some have suggested that perhaps this is a kind of witnessing of the male actually giving a kind of authority to the woman in legal affairs so they will ever know exactly what this represents but the thing is that it's always seemed to me that it can't simply just be a double portrait because it really looks like something important is happening there joining their hands their shoes are off which now them all have symbolic value and this is a period when there's tremendous importance put on symbolism so the shoes being off for instance as you mentioned is often a reference to a kind of sacred event taking place we have a single candle in the chandelier which I was taught was a symbol of the presence of God but again we're just we're just not really sure but the way that they're joined together the way his hand is up perhaps he's just greeting the visitors who we see in the mirror there are two people who are in the doorway actually a wonderfully situated where we would be looking at this painting it does seem to me like something significant is going on there is a kind of witnessing taking yeah and I think that that's reinforced by the signature that we see above the mirror below the chandelier that says Johannes van Dyck fou attic or translated your house and Ike was here so there is that sense of the artists presence the artist witnessing the artist being here in this room with these figures let's go about this painting and really look at the different elements because there are many things that we do agree about as art historians the mirror in the center is really one of the most compelling elements you have not only in a sense the greater visual reality of this room depicted because we can actually see as if we're standing in the back of the room looking forward but you see actually scenes from The Passion of Christ painted on the back pieces of glass panels that are set into that wooden frame right and you know I have to say that it's hard to get a sense of this when you're watching a video we're looking at illustrations in a book but those little roundels around the mirror well how big would you say those are they are I would say about half the size much half the size of my fingernail yeah they're tiny and yet we can make out what scenes from The Passion of Christ are represented there there's that attention to detail and detail painted in enormous clarity that we associate with the Northern Renaissance um of this painting seems to have been painted with a single hairbrush you know absolutely if you look at the hair of the dog for example is an interesting element because you wouldn't expect to see a dog in a formal portrait how many wedding photographs have you seen with a dog in it actually dogs are common symbols and paintings of couples because the dog is a symbol of fidelity or loyalty this tremendous attention that's been paid to the dress of both figures and there's a kind of curious element because they're wearing fur-lined clothing and yet there is fruit on the tree outside and so it's a warm moment yet they're wearing sort of their finest winter wear it's an issue that has I think perplexed art historians and that fruit on the windowsill may also be a symbol of or a sign I should say of their wealth since oranges were very expensive in Flanders and some have suggested that that was one of the items that the Arnolfini is actually imported a reference to the source of their wealth and this is a good example of one of the ways that it's easy to misinterpret it looks as though the scene is taking place in what we would think of as a bedroom in a kind of private space but in fact bedrooms were not that in the 15th century they were rooms where you receive visitors and a symbol of wealth and there are all kinds of symbols of wealth here beyond the oranges if you look at the carpet down on the floor that would have been a symbol of both taste and wealth look at the way that we see those tiny little cuts in the green robe that she wears this heavy that's been frayed out that was a that was a dirt that was a very fashionable and the the crispness of the lace that she wears around her head now there's a mistake that was often made which is people often look at the sort of the bulge of her belly and suggest that she's pregnant but we're pretty clear that she's not there's very very much an expression of the fashion right and today another way that it's easy to misinterpret based on what we know in the 21st century that Ike is I think critically important not only because of the brilliance of his painting but because he was using oil paint in a way that had never really been used and is able to create a kind of luminous quality and richness of color The Temper simply couldn't achieve yep and he's doing this because he's applying thin multiple layers or glazes of thinned out oil painting so that each layer is translucent and layer after layer applied creates these incredibly deep rich colors which allows him to then produce this rich luminescent light look at the way that light comes in through this room and moves across the faces of the figures their hands across the furniture on the chandelier the little shadow cast by that bottom bar of the window there's a real love of light here that also is very typical of the northern and the way they can serve brilliantly pick up a color like on the oranges for instance or define an object such as our no-fee knees shoes the figures are kind of elongated the base of the room seems very cramped it's filled with all of these material objects it's certainly not prospectively correct right and all those both of those things that lack of interest in human anatomy and a rational prospectively correct space really tells that we're not in the Italian Renaissance were in the Northern Renaissance that love of of texture the use of oil paint the attention to detail you know van Dyck as a master or the master of the Northern Renaissance
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