Author(s): Carola Hicks
The "Arnolfini" portrait, painted by Jan van Eyck in 1434, is one of the world's most famous paintings. It intrigues all who see it. Scholars and the public alike have puzzled over the meaning of this haunting gem of medieval art, a subtle and beautiful double portrait of a wealthy Bruges merchant and his wife. The enigmatic couple seem to be conveying a message to us across the centuries, but what? Is the painting the celebration of marriage or pregnancy, a memorial to a wife who died in childbirth, a fashion statement or a status symbol? Using her acclaimed forensic skills as an art historian, Carola Hicks set out to decode the mystery, uncovering a few surprises along the way. She also tells the fascinating story of the painting's survival through fires, battles, hazardous sea journeys, and its role as a mirror reflecting the culture and history of the time - from jewel of the Hapsburg empire to Napoleonic war trophy. Uniquely, for a masterpiece this old, it can be tracked through every single owner, from the mysterious Mr. Arnolfini via various monarchs to a hard-up Waterloo war hero, until it finally came to rest in 1842 as an early star of the National Gallery. These owners, too, have cameo parts in this enthralling story of how an artwork of genius can speak afresh to each new generation.
A fascinating exploration of one our best loved paintings, and the strange, dramatic history of its owners through time with a foreword by Grayson Perry.
Hicks tells a truly fascinating story about image and ownership, based on diligent, well-digested research -- Vera Ryan Irish Times A brilliantly idiosyncratic investigation which alternates chapters internal to the picture (the fashions, the furniture, the oranges, the mirror) with chapters on its production and historical meanderings -- Lynn Roberts Tablet Meticulously weaving an analysis of the portrait with chapters devoted to political and social history -- Fisun Guner Metro Hicks writes effortlessly, with a vast amount of information at her fingertips -- Jerry Brotton BBC History Magazine Engaging -- Gillian Tindal Literary Review
Carola Hicks, an acclaimed art historian, and witty, perceptive writer, died in 2010 just as she was finishing this book. Born in Sussex, Carola studied archaeology at Edinburgh University, and was an actress, journalist and House of Commons Researcher, before taking up an academic career. For several years she was curator of the Stained Glass Museum at Ely Cathedral, and then became a Fellow and Director of Studies in art history at Newnham College, Cambridge. Her books include Animals in Early Medieval Art, Improper Pursuits: The Scandalous Life of Lady Di Beauclerk, and two fine 'biographies' of works of art: The Bayeux Tapestry: The Life Story of a Masterpiece and The King's Glass: A Story of Tudor Power and Secret Art.