Arnolfini Wedding Portrait Controversy

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  • Topic: Arnolfini Portrait, Jan van Eyck, Erwin Panofsky
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  • Published : December 10, 2012
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Rosie Linde
Art History, Professor Zervigon; Recitation,
Gianna Loscerbo 1:082:106:14
Edwin Panofsky,
“Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait,”
The Burlington Magazine 64 (1934): 117-127

Arnolfini Wedding Portrait Controversy

Erwin Panofsky was a prominent art historian of the twentieth century. He also was one of the foremost proponents of iconography, and attributed symbolic meaning to the various elements of the Arnolfini scene. He attributed the scene to be a document of the marriage between Giovanni Arnolfini and his wife in 1434. Panofsky argues that there are symbols in the painting that point towards a marital union and gives the work its nuptial significance. In 1934, Erwin Panofsky published an article in the Burlington Magazine entitled “Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait.” He interprets the painting as “a man and a woman represented in the act of contracting matrimony, and identifies the two people in the portrait as Giovanni Arnolfini and his wife, Jeanne de Cename. Originally from Lucca in Italy, they lived in the Bruges. Panofsky interprets earlier descriptions of the painting and identifies the answers to some of the important questions that many people have asked. Who are the people? What is depicted in the painting? What are the descriptions of the painting by people who have never seen the actual portrait? Panofsky then goes on to investigate what it means to be married in the days of Arnolfini. He concludes that marriage is a matter of mutual consent between man and wife expressed by words or actions and that it could take place without witnesses as the Council of Trent in 1563 states. Panofsky then continues to identify the words or actions that legitimized marriage. They can be an appropriate formula solemnly pronounced by bride and bridegroom (which the bridegroom confirms by raising his hand), a traditional pledge (usually a ring placed on the finger of the bride), and most importantly, the joining of the hands, which is blatantly...
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