Woman at the toilet (van Eyck)

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Woman at the toilet (copy after Jan van Eyck by an unknown person in the Fogg Art Museum )
Gallery of Cornelis van der Geest (detail) in the Rubens House , Antwerp

Woman at the toilet is an oil painting by the Flemish painter Jan van Eyck . It is not the original, only two copies. The better preserved copy is part of a gallery picture by Cornelis van Haecht , the second copy is in a poor state of preservation in the Fogg Art Museum in Cambridge, USA. The fact that the two copies are largely identical increases their credibility.

Whether an early example of the Venetian courtesan image , an evocation of Venus or an image of bridal chastity, van Eyck, like the Italian painter Giovanni Bellini, shows the beauty of women as an image of fine art with her motif Woman at her toilet . Both Bellini's and van Eyck's acts lack any obvious biblical, mythological, or moralizing motivation. The Eyck model inspired Bellini's work with the comparable themes of eroticism, voyeurism and virtuosity and was later the model for Venus in front of the mirror by Titian .

Image description

In a profane interior , a naked female figure faces the viewer frontally. In her left hand she holds a towel with a gesture of Venus pudica to cover her pubic area, with her right hand she reaches for a basin on a wooden chest of drawers. Your head is tilted slightly towards the water basin and your eyes are lowered. A clothed woman is with her, perhaps a servant. She is holding a carafe and a fruit, probably an orange, in her hands. The two women are reflected in a large convex mirror on the left, and on the right behind is a bed.

Interpretation of the motive

In the specialist literature on van Eyck's picture, two paths were pursued: Iconological research looked for the hidden symbolic meaning of the picture. The naked woman is interpreted as Vanitas , Castitas (chastity), Bathsheba or as Judith . However, the identification with Judith cannot be proven. The motive for the respective assignments seems to be the attempt to free van Eyck from suspicion of erotic implications.

The other idea of ​​interpretation is also a discourse on purity. Chastity is proven here through the "real history". In his essay, published in 1957, Julius Held assumes the thesis of the Arnolfini wedding that the scene represents the bride's ritual wedding bath. Daniela Hammer-Tugendhat seems highly unlikely to identify the naked woman with the bride Giovanna Cenami , as the interior space is by no means involved that of the Arnolfini wedding is identical and the affiliation can neither be proven nor refuted. In their opinion, the meaning of the image lies precisely in the detachment of the representation of the naked body from the biblical context, which has always been part of the discourse on sin.

Jan van Eyck's wife at the toilet seems to be a reinvention and yet stands in a tradition, as the topic of women's baths has been part of court art since the second half of the 14th century. Jan van Eyck was a valet de chambre himself .

Individual evidence

  1. ^ A b c Daniela Hammer-Tugendhat : Jan van Eyck - Autonomization of the nude image and gender difference. Heidelberg University , accessed on July 26, 2020 .
  2. Sherry CM Lindquist: The Meanings of Nudity in Medieval Art . Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2012, ISBN 978-1-4094-2284-6 , pp. 313 ( google.de [accessed on July 26, 2020]).
  3. Harvard: From the Harvard Art Museums' collections Woman at Her Toilet. Retrieved July 26, 2020 (English).