Archive for March, 2012


Another more contemporary look at symbols in a painting. It’s commonly thought that Wood was criticizing the puritanical Midwestern farm communities ( the people who scared him into staying “in the closet” most of his life). The word in the name “Gothic” and the out-of-place window in the house suggest the dark ages. The stern farmer looks straight ahead but the daughter (yes, it is supposed to be his daughter, not his wife) looks off in the distance, like she’s dreaming of another, non-farming, life.

It is one of the most copied & parodied paintings…





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This is one of the best paintings to study to learn about symbolism in paintings, it’s loaded with them.

The painting is thought to be a very elaborate form of wedding license. The artist and a second person are shown reflected in the mirror and his signature and date in the center of the wall act as the witness to the wedding (weddings were commonly held in the home, without clergy at that time).

The Arnolfini’s are bragging about their wealth in the painting, wearing heavy velvet & fur clothes, when you can see a summer cherry tree in the window. Also the elaborate chandelier and imported oranges were pricey.

The female is standing towards the inside, her place is in the home. The male near the window, he’s the family contact to the outside world.

The man looks at the viewer, the woman at her husband, subserviently, but traditionally the women in these portraits would look down, so there was a bit more equality in their relationship.

She seems pregnant but Ms. Arnolfini died childless so the appearance may be just a wish for future kids.

There are tiny scenes from Christ’s life in the frame of the mirror, a symbol of blessing on the marriage.

The dog is traditionally the symbol of loyalty.

The green dress symbolizes hope, the white hat, purity. The red drapes around the bed, lust & procreation.

The shoes off show that they are here to stay.

There is one historian who thinks there may have been things added later, after Ms. Arnolfini’s death; the paintings on the woman’s side of the frame are scenes from Christ’s death, on the man’s side from Christ’s life. There is a lit candle on the man’s side of the chandelier, a burnt out one on the woman’s side.

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Here’s a cool story; In the Palazzo Vechio on a mural by Georgio Vasari (more famous for his books about the lives of Renaissance artists than his painting) an archeologist found a hidden message “seek and you shall find”. Further tests found an air space behind the mural. The archeologists inserted an endoscope and found another painting behind Vasari’s mural.

They sampled the painting and found pigments similar to those used by Leonardo Da Vinci. They are hoping they found Leonardo’s “Battle of Anghiari”, a painting that was commissioned in 1503 but was assumed to have been destroyed by a fire in the 16th century. Nothing proven yet, they are still working on it.

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Finally stopped putting it off, varnishing day…

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