the saddest day / the Arnolfini

Octombrie 14, 2008 § Lasă un comentariu

It all ended with getting trapped in the elevator for three times before having reached the third floor. The good part was that, if the first two stops were between floors and I was already starting to smell panick through my soon to be sweat, the last bump left me positioned exactly at a rescue point: I opened the wooden doors, the metal door, and greeted freedom and the seven floors I still had to assault by foot in order to get home.

Before that was the dog that followed me home all the way from the subway, taking its time, panting every now and then, pacing up, providing the musical background it must have felt I needed, as there we were … the only breathing creatures on the street. Strangely enough, no one passed, no cars driving by; luckily enough, there were no other dogs running around. The wicked creature left at some point, but not before seeing me crack, pop and all the other synonims that sound like psychological shutdown. I sat on a fence in the middle of that wide, deserted street, circled by a big dog that looked so stupid, but not stupid enough to convince me not to fear it. By the time I got to the elevator I had this feeling that I had probably left behind the only dog that really liked me.

And then there were the Arnolfinis. I’d pretty much always thought that painting to represent a dutch couple; all that abundence of details seemed to be  enough to seal the case. Also bare in mind that it belongs to a certain gentleman who called himself van Eyck. But then, the issue turned from a question of identity to one of familiarity and bonding. Those figures started to embody every dutch I had ever imagined, and not only those from the fifteenth century, but even those carbon dated to other medieval and renaissant centuries.

Yet today I find out that the couple is Italian (should the name of Arnolfini have been a not so slight hint?), and that they represented the Medici bank in Amsterdam. That skinny man and his pale, pregnant looking wife dressed in their pretty colored garments were as Italian as pasta.

But googling my way into checking this piece of distressing information, I came across the wikipedian truth: This painting was long believed to be a portrait of Giovanni di Arrigo Arnolfini and his wife Giovanna Cenami in a Flemish bedchamber, but it was established in 1997 that they were married in 1447, thirteen years after the date on the painting and six years after van Eyck’s death. It is now believed that the subject is Giovanni di Arrigo’s cousin Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini and his wife. This is either an undocumented second wife, or, according to a recent proposal, his first wife Costanza Trenta, who had died by February 1433. This would make the painting partly a memorial portrait, showing one living and one dead person. (huh?)

Further searching revealed that his wife is not pregnant, as is often thought, but holding up her full-skirted dress in the contemporary fashion. Another version states that: Behind the pair, the curtains of the marriage bed have been opened. The bedpost’s finial (crowning ornament) is a tiny statue of Saint Margaret, patron saint of childbirth.

Having all these in mind, I can only conclude that my dutch childhood dream has just been deferred by art historians until the day they discover … that the couple were actually dutch or at least of some dutch origin.


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