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Girl in a Green Gown: The History and Mystery of the Arnolfini Portrait

Girl in a Green Gown: The History and Mystery of the Arnolfini Portrait [Kindle Edition]

Carola Hicks
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)

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Product Description


"I was bowled over... It is a book of page-turning vignettes" (Daily Telegraph)

"Exploring the double portrait in revelatory detail, Hicks presents a truly inspiring picture of her own" (The Times)

"The book has sent me back to the painting...with wider and more inquisitive eyes" (Peter Conrad Observer)

"An author who opens our eyes, deepens our understanding and makes us keen to look again" (Frances Spalding Daily Mail)

"Hicks tells a truly fascinating story about image and ownership, based on diligent, well-digested research" (Vera Ryan Irish Times)

Book Description

A fascinating exploration of one our best loved paintings, and the strange, dramatic history of its owners through time with a foreword by Grayson Perry.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1491 KB
  • Print Length: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Digital (29 Sep 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005M2A5F6
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #112,744 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a painting! 18 Feb 2012
By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWER
It's a small painting... and is on display at London's National Gallery in the Sainsbury Wing. I've viewed it a few times on the wall in a relatively dark corner of a room, along with other Flemish and medieval paintings. I've also seen parodies of the painting; certainly it is parodied almost as much as that other iconic picture of a couple, Grant Wood's "American Gothic". The painting I'm referring to is "The Arnolfini Portrait", painted by Jan van Eyck in 1434 and which is the subject of the late British art historian Carola Hicks' book, "Girl in a Green Gown".

Carola Hicks has written an almost compulsively readable book about the painting. She not only covers the painting and its subjects - the identities of whom are themselves open to conjecture - but she discusses the chain of owners of the painting. Owned by a succession of Habsburg rulers in Bruges, the picture eventually found its way to Spain when Charles V's sister - who had owned the painting - moved from Bruges to Madrid. Three centuries or so of being owned by members of the ongoing line of Habsburg, then French Bourbon, rulers, the painting was looted/taken/given (the exact details of the transfer from Spanish possession to British are a bit murky) after the Battle of Vitoria in 1813, when British forces under Wellington, defeated the Spanish/French army. A British Army officer ended up with the painting, which he eventually sold in 1842 to the British government, who were establishing a "National Gallery". The "Arnolfini" was quickly established by museum patrons and art historians as one of the Gallery's favorite paintings. Protected during two world wars, the work is now displayed, as I said, in a darkish corner of a room.

But however displayed, the "Arnolfini" continues to glow.
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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enthralling account of an artistic masterpiece 14 Oct 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
What a wonderful book. Anyone who has viewed the 'Arnolfini Portrait' in London's National Gallery must surely have been captivated by the painting. It is one of those works which makes you want to find out who the sitters were and why they had the painting commissioned. Carola Hicks, who finished writing the book just before her death, has done a fantastic job in tracing the history of the painting and its provenance. van Eyck's skill as a painter is without question - his 'Madonna and Child with Canon Joris van der Paele' is one of my favourite paintings. But the 'Arnolfini Portrait' has always been, for me, one of the most intriguing works ever painted. Her description of the two figures in the painting in the early chapter 'Followers of Fashion' is captivating. Subsequent chapters alternate between the history/provenance of the painter and further descriptions of the painting itself. Although she is on firmer ground when discussing history I still feel her dissection of the painting forms an important counterpoint to the historical narrative. She may not have been able to resolve the mystery of the sitters but she has produced a wonderful book. Highly recommended. (Once you've read it you would find it worthwhile to read 'From Flanders to Florence' by Paula Nuttal).
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars disappointing 17 Nov 2011
By emmcol
This book received glowing praise in the press, and while I am not saying that it is in any way a bad book, it doesn't deserve the extravagant praise it has got. In particular, it says very little about the picture. You can find out more from Wikipedia. Nor does the author give any opinion on where she stands on the controversies surrounding it. Her history of the picture's reception is the most interesting part of the book, but the problem is, most of the book is taken up with the lives and circumstances of the picture's owners. And when this descends into the dynastic politics of the 16th and 17th centuries, frankly you have to be pretty committed not to skip the numerous pages devoted to this. Even the description of the Peninsular War, which is somewhat more lively, is not exactly gripping.
I hope and presume the author wasn't responsible for the title. (She says herself that the woman -- and no way is she a 'girl' -- seems to be a standard 15th century portrait based on no one in particular; it's the man who's individual and interesting, and it's the symmetry that makes the picture.)
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Shallow book, no enlarged illustrations 9 Dec 2011
The book may be of use as a shallow (yet well written) introduction. It tries to cover both history and art history in 200 odd pages and the result is shallow- unavoidably, in my opinion. Amazingly, the colour illustrations don't contain even one enlarged detail from the painting. This gross negligence means you read endless, minute verbal descriptions of the painting without being able to see the details, not even one.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good introduction for the non specialist 10 April 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book is split into two. A chapter on specific aspects of the so called 'Arnolfini Portrait' itself. Then a chapter on the people who owned it and chapters at the end on 19th century controversies surrounding the painting i,e. who were the couple depicted? The written style is straight forward with little, if any, 'modern university critical verbiage'.

I leaned a lot about the painting, for example how it got into the National Gallery in London. Along the way you also find out how a great painting becomes 'great'. There is a lot of historical background which I enjoyed but I can understand the reviewers who found it a bit wearisome.The book itself is quite short although the final chapter does have a tacked on feel. I presume this was because the author had not fully completed this section at the time of her death.To me it did come over that the book was a labour of love.

I read the Kindle edition which was well formatted with notes and a comprehensive bibliography but the pictures were not great although probably no worse , from what some of the reviewers have mentioned, than that of the paper book.

Overall the book did make me see the painting with new eyes and make me want to see the real one again.

I would have liked to have given this book 4 1/2 stars but as this is not possible I have given 4 stars. Although I read it with pleasure I cannot honestly say it was truly great book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars An Amazing Read
Really interesting and informative read - Ive seen this picture in the National Gallery but had no idea about its history or provenance. Read more
Published 5 days ago by Hectordog
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read
This is a very well written book with fascinating information about the painting itself and its provenance. Read more
Published 17 days ago by pastina
4.0 out of 5 stars I am really enjoying this book. It tells the ...
I am really enjoying this book. It tells the story of history of the portrait through its various owners and is a very relaxing read.
Published 26 days ago by Misty
5.0 out of 5 stars Girl in a Green Gown
A book I'm glad to have and lend to friends. It was recommended to me and I shall recommend it to others.
Published 4 months ago by Olive Salt
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating read
A pick up and put down read, quite fascinating, going to visit Bruges on the strength of it, so much interesting information gleaned.
Published 4 months ago by MVF north devon
5.0 out of 5 stars A gem of a book about a gem of medieval art
The saying goes 'if walls could talk' well if paintings could talk! The stories this one could tell and reveal. Read more
Published 7 months ago by N Saker
3.0 out of 5 stars Not quite what I expected
I am only a quarter of the way through, so there is time for me to change my mind. This is a Reading Group choice, so I knew nothing about it. Read more
Published 9 months ago by G. A. Robinson
5.0 out of 5 stars Good
Good book on a painting I have seen but gives a lot of insight, context and history around and about the painting
Published 9 months ago by Lynda G
5.0 out of 5 stars facinating book
this was a wonderful book, with clearly stated theories and much historical fact. I did not want to put it down
Published 11 months ago by juudipry
5.0 out of 5 stars Opened my eyes to paintings
This book is beautifully written with only a very small number of pages that slowed me down a bit. Impatience I suppose with progression. However overall I was enthralled. Read more
Published 15 months ago by K. Steele
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