Lesson ideas

14th October 2005 at 01:00
While the painting is widely known as "The Arnolfini Wedding", the official title is "Portrait of Giovanni (?) Arnolfini and his Wife". This is because, since 1998, curators at the National Gallery have questioned whether a marriage ceremony is depicted at all, and which members of the Arnolfini family this couple may be.

On the National Gallery website (www.nationalgallery.org.uk), explore the painting using the zoom facility. Ask the pupils to decide which types of fabrics and other materials the artist is describing in paint.

Whoever these people are, and for whatever occasion the portrait was commissioned, they wanted to be portrayed in a particular way. Ask students which objects denote the couple's place in society. What indicators might such a couple use nowadays?


Discuss how we measure personal success today; how do people like to present themselves to others? What would an affluent couple choose to display in a similar portrait today?


Some of the objects in the painting were very expensive in the 15th century, for example the dress with the long front train that the woman is wearing (she is not pregnant) and the mirror. Why were these objects so prized; for example, how were they made? Where did they come from?

Karen Hosack is head of schools education, National Gallery

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