Jan van Eyck`s "Arnolfini Portrait" Gets a New Frame, Polarizing Social Media Users

Artnews_ The Arnolfini Portrait, a main attraction at London’s National Gallery, has received a new frame intended to reshape how viewers see the famed Jan van Eyck painting.

It is normal for beloved artworks to get new frames every once in a while, and when they do, those frames tend not to receive much attention. But when Peter Schade, head of the National Gallery’s framing department, posted news of the van Eyck painting’s makeover, users on the social media platform X were divided on its merits.

Schade noted on X that a 19th-century Gothic frame that once accompanied The Arnolfini Portrait had now been replaced by a newly acquired 15th-century frame with gilded molding. “The figures appear larger and the details crisper without the competition of the incongruous carving,” Schade wrote.

It was quite a shift for a painting widely regarded as one of the best ever to emerge from Europe. The painting, made in 1434, is a double portrait of a merchant and his wife, and it is prized for its high level of naturalism—achievable through van Eyck’s use of oil, a medium first popularized during the Northern Renaissance—and for its sophisticated perspectival tricks.

A polarized response greeted the new frame. Bendor Grosvenor, an art historian and an Art Newspaper columnist, wrote, “Bold. But imo an improvement.”

But not everyone was so pleased. “Basically, the new frame forces our ideas of minimalism on the painting, even though it is an 15th century gilded moulding,” wrote one user. “The new frame also catches too much light. Respect 19th-century aesthetics!”

“The previous [frame] added depth,” wrote another. “The new one renders the whole thing kind of flat.”

Regardless, the tweet has marked a rare moment of Northern Renaissance–centered social media drama, with Schade’s post receiving more than 9,000 likes. It is also perhaps the only time that the Social Network clip of Justin Timberlake offering advice on Facebook’s name has been invoked vis-à-vis Jan van Eyck.