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The mystery of The Arnolfini Marriage

Updated Thursday, 1st September 2005
Introducing the secret behind an enigmatic masterpiece.

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The Arnolfini Marriage

In 1434 a wealthy Renaissance merchant commissioned a portrait with his wife. The Arnolfini Marriage is one of the most famous, as well as one of the most studied, paintings of all time but a new discovery has thrown the art world into confusion.

The repercussions are immense, leading historians to question accepted views of marriage and society; of fame and fortune; and of trade and travel. But it had also led some to question the entire study of history itself.

Section of the portrait of the Arnolfini marriage

Explore the mysteries of this enigmatic masterpiece in the programme transcript.


If you'd like to find out more about the great works of art, the best place to start are those artworks themselves - there are now large numbers of galleries which make at least some of their catalogue available online.

The National Gallery in London is online.

The Webmuseum in Paris has a network site including more information on the Renaissance, Renaissance art, and, in particular, Jan van Eyck and the Arnolfini painting.

Further reading

If you'd like to take your interest further, we've got some suggested reading for you to dip into.

The Fifteenth Century Netherlandish Schools
Lorne Cambell, National Gallery 1998

Early Netherlandish Painting
Erwin Panofsky, Harvard University Press 1953

The Art of the Northern Renaissance
Craig Harbison, Orion 1995


The experts who shaped our insight into the painting:

renaissance secrets, mystery of marriage, craig harbison, inline Craig Harbison

Craig Harbison is professor of art history at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He has a special interest in the Northern Renaissance, in particular the art of Flanders, the Netherlands, France, and Germany in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.


renaissance secrets, mystery of marriage, evelyn welch, inline Evelyn Welch

Evelyn Welch is reader in the School of European Studies at the University of Sussex. Her current research interests include the role of women in the Renaissance and issues of Renaissance consumption.


renaissance secrets, winter garden, academic, martin kemp, inline Martin Kemp

Martin Kemp is professor of the history of art at Oxford University. Author of Leonardo da Vinci. The Marvellous works of man and nature and numerous studies of the relationships between representations in art and science, he is a regular contributor to 'Nature' and curated a major exhibition, 'Know Thyself' on the art and science of the human body for the Hayward Gallery in October 2000.


renaissance secrets, mystery of marriage, jacques paviot, inline Jacques Paviot

Jacques Paviot is professor of history at the Sorbonne in Paris. Since discovering a mention of the Arnolfini Marriage in the Lille archives he has developed a new research interest in van Eyck and the Arnolfini painting.


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