Art is unique because it speaks to each individual on a personal level. Whatever a work of art might mean to you, it won’t necessarily mean the same thing to the person standing behind you, and both could be completely different than the meaning intended by the artist. That being said, art also has plenty of stories to tell. These stories are accrued over decades, even centuries, and are there for those willing to look closely enough.
10. Arnolfini Portrait
The Arnolfini Portrait, painted in 1434 by Dutch artist Jan van Eyck, is regarded by art historians as one of the most important paintings in history but also a constant source of controversy. For starters, the painting is done in oil—something conventional nowadays but pretty rare in Western European art of the early 15th century.
This allowed Van Eyck to fully explore his talent for detail in ways that have seldom been seen in other paintings. If you look closely, you can see that the mirror on the back wall reflects the entire room, including two additional figures standing in the doorway. (The dog is conspicuously absent.) The artist even (somewhat) takes into account the distortion of the convex mirror. Incredibly, the even smaller medallions inside the frame of the mirror depict scenes from the Passion of Christ.
However, the controversial part of the painting isn’t the mirror but rather the couple itself. It was unusual for that time to paint contemporary people just standing around the house, so historians have argued that there might be a deeper meaning to the painting. Specifically, some have argued that the artwork depicts a newly married bride and groom with the mysterious figures in the doorway acting as witnesses. Not everyone agrees with this assertion, and experts have analyzed every minute detail in the painting from the way the couple is holding hands to how the woman is wearing her hair to try and establish the relationship between the two people.