What is the most misunderstood artwork?

Vincent van Gogh’s Sterrenennacht/Starry Night is popularly misunderstood:

Contrary to popular myth:

Van Gogh was not painting what he saw from the window of an asylum. He was painting from memory and imagination. The Dutch village is typically Dutch, and the cypress is something van Gogh had painted before.

Van Gogh was not hallucinating. We all know stars don’t look like that. Van Gogh knew how to paint realistically. He just chose not to. It has nothing to do with his perception.

Another one is the masterpiece by the Medieval Netherlandish painter, Jan van Eyck

This is typically assumed to be the marriage of a merchant named Giovanni Arnolfini and his wife Jeanne Cemani. Or so everyone thought. Then it was discovered that this marriage happened six years after Jan van Eyck died.

So, there are two possibilities:

  • Giovanni Arnolfini had a cousin whose name happened to be Giovanni. Perhaps this isn’t the merchant Arnolfini. Perhaps this is the cousin’s marriage.
  • Perhaps this isn’t a marriage. Perhaps Arnolfini had a previous wife, who since died, and probably in childbirth.

The painting gives reasons to consider the second:

  • Despite it being daylight a candle is burning over the man’s head. A gutted candle appears above the woman’s head. That’s one way to represent living versus dead.
  • There is a mirror on the wall behind them. The mirror includes scenes from the life and death of Christ. The life scenes are behind the man; the death scenes are behind the woman.
  • If you look closely at the reflection, you see the woman is facing a nun. Possibly this is a midwife.
  • The woman is standing by a bed. This may not be coincidental. This may refer to the bed where women gave birth.

And while this last is hard to determine, the woman appears pregnant.

Given all these details, taken together, I take it that the woman is actually an unnamed first wife who died in childbirth. This was the most common way women died in Medieval Europe.

In any case, this cannot be the wedding of Giovanni Arnolfini to Jeanne Cemani.

Arnolfini Portrait - Wikipedia

And the handwriting on the wall is more ambiguous than it appears. It says, in Latin, “Jan van Eyck” was here. This does mean van Eyck was claiming authorship of the painting. It may or may not mean that van Eyck was a witness to a formal ceremony.

People have often assumed this was the case. It may or may not be. We do not know whether van Eyck painted this from sight or from a description.

This information was taken from Quora. Click here to view the original post.

What is your opinion about that? Share it with us in the comments below, please!

#History #art #Quora


What are your thoughts on this subject?
Lynn Murchison
I studied art in school and I did know this about Arnolfini, thanks.
Oct 24, 2021 5:07PM
Fiona McWilliam
Contrary to this story that Van Gogh was painting from his imagination, he actually did paint what he saw. There was an event in space that created this particular pattern of cloudiness that Van Gogh depicted but this wasn't discovered until recently.
Sep 19, 2021 8:56PM
Elsy O. Stromberg
These are poor examples of misunderstood paintings in my opinion. And why put the first one of Paris? How could anyone misunderstand that?
Aug 25, 2021 2:08PM
Jim Adams
Starry night, the only one from the masters I actually like.
Jun 28, 2020 11:47PM
Charlie Chase
I am uneducated in art. I like what I like. Most modern art to me is juvenile and uninteresting.
Sep 18, 2019 7:23PM
Cheryl McMeekin
Lucky guess and interesting.
Jun 25, 2019 9:14PM
Eileen Dunn
Interesting and poignant.
Jun 8, 2019 5:43PM
Peter Clements
David Roy, Agree. Rothko works are only art because they are displayed in an art gallery.
Mar 24, 2019 12:44AM
David Roy
Isn't the most misunderstood artwork by Rothko? It's actually not art, is it? Yet it gets sold for millions of dollars and copies adorn offices.
Dec 25, 2018 6:58PM
Remember was an epitome of IMPRESSIONISM. What the impressionists sought was to arouse impressions on their viewers, so one reason -among probably others- for van Gogh painting the stars the way he did was to arouse in the viewer notions of stars being active bodies in our imagination that can move us to dream, to love, to hope, etc
Dec 25, 2018 9:51AM
Luis Perez
Nice and interesting possibilities.
Nov 27, 2018 6:15PM
Shemeela Sasikumar
puzzling ideas about paintings of famous artists.
Nov 21, 2018 5:41AM
Steve Gash
All new to me
Nov 7, 2018 3:43AM
David Lee
Another one is "American Gothic," thought to be husband and wife, is really father and daughter. M.M.C.
Oct 29, 2018 4:37PM
Frank P. Araujo
Nice and convincing synthesis. The dead v, living images speak volumes.
Oct 13, 2018 4:34PM

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