Monday, May 12, 2008

The Arnolfini Marriage

Way back in February on our journey to Bruges with Jane and Michael, I posted a picture by van Eyck. I didn't see the painting there, it was just a reference to van Eyck's work in conjunction with Bruges.

I am now reading "Unaccustomed Earth" by Jhumpa Lahiri. It is a collection of eight stories from around the world. In the story "Only Goodness" the main character finds herself wandering around the National Gallery in London....
"In November, wandering through the National Gallery, she met a man. She had been admiring The Arnolfini Marriage by van Eyck, lingering in front of it after a cluster of people had passed. It was an oil painting of a couple in a bedroom holding hands, with a small dog standing at their feet. The man wore a fur-trimmed purple cape and an overly large black straw hat. The woman wore an emerald-green gown that trailed like a heavy curtain onto the floor, some of the material gathered up in her left hand. She had a white veil on her head and looked possibly pregnant, Sudha wasn't sure. There was a window behind the man, with a piece of fruit, an apricot or a tangerine, on the sill. On the wall hung a convex mirror that reflected everything in the painting."
"Come closer," the man next to Sudha said, ushering her a few steps forward so that no one could cross their line of vision. "Otherwise you can't really see." He started talking about the mirror, how it was the focal point of the painting, capturing the floor and the ceiling, the room and the world outside, and then she saw that it reflected not only the couple but also a pair of men standing in the doorway, peering into the room just as she was. "One of them is van Eyck," the man said. "That's what the inscription above the mirror says. It's Latin for 'van Eyck was here.'"

"He told her that the two men in the doorway of the painting were witnessing the couple's union, adding that the painting was intended to serve as a marriage certificate. "Of course, that's just one interpretation," the man said. "Some argue that it's a betrothal scene."

"She studied the details he spoke of, the glow of the paint, conscious of their shared gaze. "What about the shoes? Do they mean something?" Sudha heard herself asking, pointing to a pair of abandoned wooden clogs in the foreground and then to some red slippers by the carpet.

"I suspect it means they're standing on holy ground. Either that or she just went shopping."

Isn't it interesting how life collides!

1 comment:

  1. By a strange coincidence I watched an interview of David Hockney talking about pinhole cameras yesterday, and he said he was sure one was used by the artist who painted The Arnolfini Marriage.