Free Essay On The Arnolfini Wedding Portrait: Formal Analysis
Jan van Eyck's The Arnolfini Portrait is an art masterpiece exhibiting major components of a visual conceptualization interrelated into a painting. Depicting a man and (possibly) his wife, a lying dog in a (bed)room, formal components of line, shape and form as well as space and color are executed into a painting. Texture, notably, is "experienced" by ingenious combinations of colors, lines and shades. A deeper look into The Arnolfini Portrait is required for a better understanding of van Eyck's style. This paper aims, hence, to conduct a formal analysis of Jan van Eyck's The Arnolfini Portrait.
Linearly, verticalness dominates The Arnolfini Portrait. The space in which man and (presumed) wife are standing in is compact against a central depth highlighted by well-defined contours of man's garment and woman's head cover. Depth is further highlighted by diagonal lines of floor panels, ceiling beams as well as windowsill.
Spatially, negative space is rare. The painting is, in fact, filled by couple's presence. The chandelier is perfectly positioned between couple, holding, interestingly, one candle, at man's side. The negative space is ingeniously invested at man's non-slippered feet, only to emphasize depth as diagonal lines in floor panels can be seen more clearly. The spatial orientation and sense of dimensionality are accentuated by couple's movements: man's slight waving motion by right hand to figures shown in mirror in center and woman's ringed figures holding her dress.
If anything, color is one most prominent component in painting. By carefully crafting hue, value and intensity, van Eyck masters colorful depictions of his objects. The whiteness is most notable at window, on woman's head cover, face as well as at man's feet (from an unknown and unshown light source). Shed in dark, dog's face is brought to life by lively, bright eyes. Depicted facing window (and her presumed husband), woman's face is bathed in light, which intensifies brightness of her dress's linings and golden necklace. Color hue diversity is, generally, muted in favor of value and intensity. His back set to window, man's figure is dominated by dullness and darkness vis-à-vis his (presumed) wife who is depicted facing window and hence enjoys more light and brightness.
Texture is emphasized by color and lines most brilliantly. The subtle combinations of light and dark, brightness and dullness as well as shades and clear contours in man's attire and woman's dress depict, physically, heavy clothing and cloth material. Notably, bed's feel is marked by redness which enjoys differential degrees of brightness and dullness emphasizing a soothing feel of convenience and smoothness.
Compositionally, man and (presumed) wife are depicted in proportion to actual sizes. The painting is almost symmetrically split between man and wife. The Chandelier hangs down from above along a line splitting man and wife. By holding his (presumed) wife's hand, man and (presumed) wife seem positioned facing visitors shown in mirror. The emphasis / subordination in The Arnolfini Portrait is most obvious. Given compactness and rarity of negative space, both man and woman form painting's main focal point. Obvious, as well, is how man and woman are scaled: both are depicted in common, human proportions, except, possibly for man's hat which might be part of era's fashion.
Broadly, couple's mood appears to be one of focus and serious expectation. At first glance, couple's demeanor appears to be stiff and affected. However at closer look, underlying emotions are carefully concealed. A closer look at woman's face uncovers a sly smile upon her lips and a squinting look at her (presumed) husband. The slight, incomplete hand wave by her (presumed) husband to visitors shown in mirror is another clue to what appears to be what was, presumably, going on. Then, one minor detail uncovers, probably most tellingly, an "intimate" exchange, prior to visitors' appearance. Non-slippered, man's awkward wave is emphasized holding his (presumed) wife's hand, as if unable to "disengage" from an "intimate" conversation. The depiction of man's feet and his slipper beneath him prompts a search for woman's feet and slippers. Just in painting's center, under chandelier, is woman's slipper. Placed as if in hiding, slipper pair uncovers, apparently, a hasty attempt to hide what was going on. The woman's fingers holding her dress up are no less telling of something to be hidden. The overall mood, hence, unfolds, reversing a false, first impression of gloominess. The only candle, for example, might be one left – on purpose – to light up a dark, intimate night. The candle clue is simply intriguing, particularly as window ushers in day's light. The dog, ironically, seems very fixated on visitors as if surprised himself by strangers alien to an intimate, nightly company.
Overall, Jan van Eyck's The Arnolfini Portrait is a perfect example of an art work whose visual composition is not readily accessible. By combining colors subtly, van Eyck masterfully depicts his objects in lively details. His attention to details uncovers storylines not readily accessible at first look. If anything, van Eyck's mastery of visual composition indicates his own unique artistic signature.
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