The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck, One of the champions of art history is Erwin Panofsky and his greatest contribution to the field is. Most people call it the Arnolfini Wedding, and that is largely because of a celebrated, but evidently wildly unsound, article by Erwin Panofsky in. Commonly called the “Arnolfini Wedding,” in part because of Panofsky’s well- known view that the couple are engaged in contracting a clandestine marriage, Jan.

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One of my favourite paintings in the world is the small and sombre Arnolfini Portrait painted by Jan van Eyck in Two figures stand in a small room with a bed and a window. They pose formally, and even by painting standards they are very still. On the left, a man stares ahead, wearing a weighty coat and a hat that somehow manages to look serious at the same time as it looks like something that one of the Mario brothers might use to power up.

While I will point out here that he looks uncannily like Vladimir Putin in fancy dress, I would urge you to forget that, because it will ruin the painting for you.

Hannah Gadsby: why I love the Arnolfini Portrait, one of art history’s greatest riddles

With one hand he gives a lazy ranolfini in our general direction and with the other he holds the hand of the woman standing at his side, as if he is about to read her palm. Her hand is limp and her gaze is downcast. But they are wrong to assume the woman is pregnant.


Not only did Van Eyck have a habit of painting women to srnolfini like they were with child even when they were without, but it was also fashionable at the time to look pregnant when you were not. Faking the harvest to attract the seed, so to speak. Being able to tell people they are wrong was one of the reasons I decided to study art history.

The Arnolfini Betrothal

One of the champions of art history is Erwin Panofsky and his greatest contribution to the field is his analysis of the Arnolfini Portrait in Panofsky argued, very persuasively, that this portrait was not just a work of art, it was also a legal document — the wedding certificate, as it were, of the couple in the painting: Italian cloth merchant, Giovanni Arnolfini, and his wife Giovanna Cenami.

Panofsky then showed how every detail of the painting supported his thesis: Panofsky did such a thorough job and with it he ushered panovsky a new era of art history. He suggested the world was both knowable and solvable.


Since then, nobody has been able to come up with a satisfying reading of this painting. But eventually, I was relieved.

Art history has moved beyond the reach of Panofsky. A man of his time, he approached art from a fixed perspective — one that was only ever accessible to the white European elite of the male variety.

To assume that a work of art has singular meaning is as arrogant as assuming that every person experiences the panfsky in the same way as you. I was relieved in the same way I was when I first found out about the Santa Claus conspiracy. Finally, I was able to understand why some kids could starve to death and why I never got a bike.

Besides, the wench is dead

Yes, I just used the tragedy of famine to set up a joke. And that is why I am a comedian, not an art historian. Topics Comedy Cultural revelation. Order by newest oldest recommendations.

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