Alison Kinney | Longreads | March 2018 | 17 minutes (4,156 words)


In the foreground of the early Netherlandish painting stands a couple, holding hands, amidst the comforts of their cherry-upholstered, brass chandelier-lit bedroom. The husband, Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini, raises one hand in greeting, but neither to his unnamed wife, who clasps one hand over her belly, nor to the lapdog at their feet: behind the couple, a small, wall-mounted convex mirror reflects two other men, facing the Arnolfinis in their room yet visible only in the glass. One of these men may be the artist himself, Jan van Eyck.

Like many other paintings where looking glasses, polished suits of armor, jugs, and carafes expand or shift the perspectives, The Arnolfini Portrait shows us how many people are really in the picture. Painted mirrors reflect their creators, or at least their easels, in Vermeer’s Music Lesson; in the…

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