Little Art Stories 07.04
Friday 07.04.2023 – Every week Thalia invites you to discover a famous art work and a book.
Portraiture is the art of representing a person through drawing, painting or photography. The representation can be done from different angles: full-length, bust, profile, three-quarter view or self-portrait.
Portrait comes from the Latin portrahere which means to reveal to the light, to expose. The ambition of a portrait is therefore to do more than simply copy reality but to reveal the person through an artistic representation.
Since prehistoric times, through antiquity, the Renaissance, Art Nouveau, Cubism and photography, all artistic movements have been interested in the portrait. First of all, to represent everyday scenes and to pay homage during funeral ceremonies, or as a means of introducing one person to another in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. In fact, when marriages were arranged between people from different regions or countries, it was easier to send a portrait to introduce the bride to her future husband.
Over the centuries, the art became more democratic, and it was no longer the privilege of rich people to be painted but it also became accessible for everyday people to celebrate happy events such as a wedding or a birth, or to keep a souvenir.
Jan Van Eyck’s full-length portrait is a key work, on one hand as it symbolises the transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance and on the other hand because it introduces new elements such as the mirror with a mise abyme of the scene. More than an innovative work, it is a portrait that continues to question historians. For several decades now, interpretations have multiplied as to the origin of the work, its purpose and what it represents.
Indeed, the artist wrote above the mirror “Johannes de Eyck fuit hic”, which raises an initial question as to the meaning of “fuit hic”, which can be translated as “was here” or “was this one”. However, the painter’s self-portraits would invalidate the second interpretation, even though some analysts have noted numerous similarities between the woman in this portrait and Van Eyck’s wife. Taking into account the reflection in the mirror we see two people, we can therefore assume that the painter represented himself in this portrait, which consequently becomes a self-portrait, an innovation in the world of painting.
Continuing our discovery of the picture we could think that we are facing a couple, perhaps getting married, or celebrating a happy event, if we consider that the woman is pregnant. Nevertheless, some doubts arise as to this probability. It was common for a woman of that time to wear a raised dress and display a prominent belly as a sign of fertility, so it is unlikely that she is pregnant. Expert opinion is more focused on a marriage where it was common for the time not to have a priest and where two witnesses were required. However, other experts question the celebration of such an event, or at least a happy celebration. Firstly, the dark outfit of the man contrasts with the woman’s outfit and the look that is not directed at her, then, the left hand from the man that unite the two supposed lovers, a left hand that at the time represented the devil, the impure side, these two hands are in the centre of the painting surmounted by the representation of a small devil, when a dog is at the bottom of the painting, a sign of fidelity. On the left side of the painting there are fruits, some of them oranges and other apples, innocence or sin ? At the top of the painting a chandelier, a single candle is lit, a sign of wealth or poverty? Bad luck or hope? This painting is full of details and questions, not forgetting the outline of the mirror with the religious representations.
Various research and theories have led historians to identify the man as a bourgeois named Arnolfini, but his wife died in childbirth in 1433, which would be in opposition to the handwritten inscription by Van Eyck dated 1434, however this could explain the contradictory symbolism of the work.
We also invite you to explore the details of this work, which you can see on the website of the National Gallery in the United Kingdom, where the painting is exhibited: https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/jan-van-eyck-the-arnolfini-portrait
For this new week, we invite you to dive into an emblematic work, Oscar Wilde’s unique novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Imagine one day encountering a person of such pure beauty that you can’t take your eyes off him or her, a beauty that creates in you a whirlwind of emotions and sensations never experienced before.
You love this person from the very first sight. You cherish, you want to protect this person. Such a pure face, such an harmonious body … You feel you want to capture this beauty, to keep it only for you. And how else can you capture and preserve this immortal beauty than through art and portraiture. Beauty sealed in canvas forever, like a promise of eternal love.
Oscar Wilde invites us to rethink beauty and the power of art. An intense novel that we would love to read endlessly.
More than beauty, Oscar Wilde paints a dramatic story. A story of love for the other, love for ourselves, a passionate and destructive love.
A story that makes us rethink what we perceive as beautiful and pure.
A question, perhaps unanswered: what would we be willing to do to keep youth and beauty? How can extreme beauty create a monster?
We hope you will enjoy reading this and perhaps you too will refuse to read the last pages of this novel to prevent such beauty from ending.
Enjoy the reading!
*Book available in our reading area