Conference – Arnolfini Histories: Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait and its Receptions (2018)

Sainsbury Wing Lecture Theatre, the National Gallery, London, 12-13 January 2018

Van Eyck - Arnolfini Portrait - National Gallery, London

Jan van Eyck, The Arnolfini Portrait (1434), oil on oak; National Gallery, London

Arnolfini Histories: Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait and its Receptions’ was an international two-day conference organised by the Department of History of Art at the University of York in collaboration with the National Gallery and supported by Flanders House, London, to coincide with the National Gallery exhibition Reflections: Van Eyck and the Pre-Raphaelites. The conference, held on Friday 12 and Saturday 13 January 2018, was convened by Professor Elizabeth Prettejohn (University of York) and Dr Claire Yearwood, liaising with Dr Susan Foister (National Gallery) and with assistance from Dr Marjorie Coughlan (University of York) and Dr Flavia Dietrich-England (National Gallery).

Acquired by the National Gallery in 1842, Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait (1434) with its rich colours, precise detail, and enigmatic symbolism had a profound and lasting impact upon the young Pre-Raphaelite artists who banded together six years later to challenge the art establishment of the day. Fascination with Van Eyck’s painting persisted in artistic circles and the public imagination alike, and the Arnolfini Portrait came to achieve almost cult-like status in the ongoing discussions around the art-historical canon. Van Eyck’s potent influence on the avant-garde painting of the P.R.B. initiated a transhistorical visual dialogue whose ramifications can be traced throughout the development of the Pre-Raphaelite movement and beyond.

The conference explored the complexities of the relationship between Van Eyck and the Pre-Raphaelites, and the influence of the Arnolfini Portrait since its acquisition by the National Gallery.

Dr Gabriele Finaldi (Director, National Gallery) gave the Welcome, and Professor Prettejohn gave the Introduction.

Speakers were:

Panel 1: Mirrors, Arnolfini and Others
Chair: Liz Prettejohn (University of York)

Claire Yearwood (University of York): 'Reversing the Requirement of Science: Pre-Raphaelite Reflections of Van Eyck’s Mirror'

Maria Rosa Figueiredo (Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon): '"Beyond the Mirror’" An Exhibition with Mirrors in Mind'

Robert Upstone (independent scholar): 'Mirrors in the Work of William Orpen'

Panel 2: Eastlake, the Pre-Raphaelites, and the Renaissance
Chair: Charles Martindale (University of Bristol)

Susanna Avery-Quash (National Gallery): 'Eastlake encounters Van Eyck (1828-1865) - Part 1: Contextualising Charles Eastlake’s Research into Jan van Eyck’s Techniques and Purchases of his Work for the National Gallery'

Marika Spring (National Gallery): 'Eastlake encounters van Eyck (1828-1865) - Part 2: Charles Eastlake’s Documentary Research on Early Netherlandish Oil Painting Technique in the Context of 21st-Century Scientific Analyses'

Jason Rosenfeld (Marymount Manhattan College): 'New Art from Old: The Pre-Raphaelites and Early Italian Painting'

Joyce Townsend (Tate): 'Reflections: ‘Il Dolce far Niente’ and other paintings'

Plenary 1
Introduction: Claire Yearwood (University of York)

Tim Barringer (Yale): 'Ford Madox Brown and the North'

This paper discussed Ford Madox Brown’s engagement with the art of the Northern Renaissance, including manuscript sources and the work of van Eyck, as well as his memorable early trip to see works by Holbein in Basel. It concluded with thoughts about how this Northern European ideal served him throughout his life, even in the Manchester Town Hall murals – a northern masterpiece.

Panel 3: Arnolfini Things (Post-Graduate Student Session)
Chair:  Claire Yearwood (University of York)

Robert Wilkes (Oxford Brookes University): 'Joining Hands: The Arnolfini Portrait and F.G. Stephens’s The Proposal'

Debra Phillips (Australian Catholic University): 'With This Shoe, I Thee Wed: Interpreting the Symbol of the Shoe as a Transaction Confirmation in Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait'

Georgios Miliaras (University of Edinburgh): 'Out the Window: From the Apples of Paradise to Still Life; The American Pre-Raphaelites'

Christin Neubauer and Charlotte Hone (University of York): 'The Pre-Raphaelite Re-interpretation of Van Eyck’s Paternoster in the Arnolfini Portrait as a Symbolisation of Victorian Gender Constructions

Panel 4: Van Eyck and Modern Art
Chair: Mark Evans (Victoria & Albert Museum)

Marjorie Coughlan (University of York): 'The Art of Photography and the Photography of Art: Victorian and Contemporary Exploitation of the Tableau Vivant'

Martin Hammer (University of Kent): 'Mr and Mrs Arnolfini: Van Eyck through the Eyes of David Hockney'

Panel 5: Nineteenth-Century Receptions of Van Eyck
Chair: Jason Rosenfeld (Marymount Manhattan College)

Jan Dirk Baetens (Radboud University Nijmegen, Netherlands): 'Flemish Primitives, Belgian Moderns: Reception and Appropriation of Late-Medieval Netherlandish Painting in Nineteenth-Century Belgium'

Jenny Graham (Plymouth University): 'The "Strange Mirror Picture": A Nineteenth-Century Historiography of the Arnolfini Portrait'

Jeanne Nuechterlein (University of York): 'Early Netherlandish Paintings as Historical Specimens in the National Gallery'

Plenary 2
Introduction: Liz Prettejohn (University of York)

Cordula Grewe (Indiana University): 'Medievalism’s Crusade, or, The Birth of Modern Art from the Spirit of the Old Masters

In 1800, debates about style were more than quibbles about questions of taste. Style was politics. Nobody was more conscious about this than the group of six young artists who in 1809 founded the first influential secession in modern art history, the Brotherhood of St. Luke. Their emulation of the old master was driven by a desire to fight the forces of secularization, to re-enchant contemporary society and thus, in their eyes, replace decadence and the threats of industrialization with a faith- and community-based social system which was hierarchical but just and caring. In this sense, not only style but religion itself was politics. Once relocated to Rome in 1810, the fraternity soon became the centre of a much larger movement, the Nazarenes. The Pre-Raphaelites were one of many who soon followed in their footsteps.

This paper explored the significant notions of a politics of style espoused by this self-declared avant-garde, which pursued the revival of the past as a means to regenerate simultaneously modern culture and modern art. In so doing, it examined the channels of international transfer, and looked at continuities and changes in the crossover from one nation to another, from Germany to England, concluding with proof of the reception of Philipp Veit as the basis for William Holman Hunt’s most famous painting, The Light of the World

The conference was supported by Flanders House, London.

See the conference website.

Arnolfini Histories conference: University of York/National Gallery, Jan. 2018

Welcome and Panel 1

Arnolfini Histories conference: University of York/National Gallery, Jan. 2018

Panel 2

Arnolfini Histories conference: University of York/National Gallery, Jan. 2018

Plenary 1

Arnolfini Histories conference: University of York/National Gallery, Jan. 2018

Panel 3 (Post-Graduate Panel: Arnolfini Things)

Arnolfini Histories conference: University of York/National Gallery, Jan. 2018

Panel 4

Arnolfini Histories conference: University of York/National Gallery, Jan. 2018

Panel 5

Arnolfini Histories conference: University of York/National Gallery, Jan. 2018

Plenary 2


Main image: John Everett Millais, Mariana, 1851, oil on mahogany (detail); image ©Tate, released under CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported),

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