Reflections: Van Eyck and the Pre-Raphaelites

We all have a pretty good idea of what the Arnolfini Portrait looks like, and perhaps its currency within the popular imagination is produced and circulated through its infamous enigma, much like that aura still surrounding the Mona Lisa, despite the sea of cameras and bulwark of protective glass undesirably cramping Da Vinci’s painting. Fortunately, the Arnolfini Portrait is relieved of such extreme ceremony, although getting a closer look can require patience. More fortunately, however, at the National Gallery’s exhibition, ‘Reflections: Van Eyck and the Pre-Raphaelites’, you’ll be able to get up close to it undisturbed.

The centre-piece for the exhibition: Jan van Eyck, The Arnolfini Portrait, 1434. (National Gallery, London)

The portrait, painted by Jan van Eyck in 1434, serves as the centre-piece for this exhibition and its point of departure, from which it assesses the forcible impact this work had on the history of British Art and the innovation within the art of the Pre-Raphaelites. The exhibition’s argument is convincing and it expands the appreciation of this portrait. It beings with the acquisition of the painting by the National Gallery in 1842 and subsequent display in 1843. Quickly reproduced in the printed presses, the portrait also captured the interest of the artists of the recently formed Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (1848), who responded to van Eyck, generously imitating his style, modes of representation and pictorial devices—most conspicuously, the convex mirror.