Giovanni Arnolfini and Van Eyck

Most people are familiar with Giovanni Arnolfini because of his infamous family portrait by Jan van Eyck (1434). But did you know that Jan van Eyck made another portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini? This portrait, shown above, dates c. 1435.

I’ve never thought that Giovanni Arnolfini was very attractive, and seeing this portrait has further solidified my opinion. But who knows? Maybe he had a great personality, right?

What really caught my attention, however, is that there is a striking similarity between this portrait and Jan van Eyck’s self-portrait, (commonly called Man in a Red Turban, 1433, see below):

Notice the red turbans (which, technically, should be called chaperons) in each painting? I realize that this headgear was popular in the mid-fifteenth century (you can see more examples here), so I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that both men are portrayed this way. But there are other similarities between the portraits too, like the dark fur-lined coat and three-quarter profile view. Perhaps it isn’t coincidental that these portraits are only about two years apart. I wonder if Giovanni saw van Eyck’s self-portrait and then said, “Hey Jan, will you make me one of those too?”

  • heidenkind says:

    He doesn't look like he has a good personality. 🙂 Is that a dollar he's clutching in his hand?

  • LeGrand says:

    You've convinced me. Van Eyck and Arnolfini are really the same person!

  • M says:

    Yeah, I think it might be money in Arnolfini's hand. That seems to make sense to me, since Arnolfini was a very successful merchant. I can't seem to find any scholar who has identified that scrap of paper, though. If anyone knows anything about it, please leave a comment.

    And Josh, I think you're right! Ha ha! Maybe it's a split personality thing, with van Eyck as Dr. Jekyll and the ugly Arnolfini as Mr. Hyde. 😉

  • e says:

    You know what's funny, I have ALWAYS thought/HOPED (as in my entire life!) when I'd see the family portrait there that people didn't actually LOOK like that back then. I'm sorry, he just looks so … creepy. I hope his (bad) looks were just over dramatized. Still, even if that is the case, it does speak volumes for how the definition of beauty changes.

  • Rebekah says:

    Dude, who wouldn't want to be the fly on THAT fashion designer's wall? "Hmmm…I wonder what I can do with these random piles of red fabric…Heeeeeyyyyyyyyyy!" Because seriously? A wad of red rags on the head?

  • kashurst says:

    As Halloween decorations I have a big copy of the family portrait on my wall. Everyone stares at it and comments on how creepy it is!!! I heart Van Eyck!

  • Rachsticle says:

    HE looks like a douchebag.

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.