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The Comparison of Jan Van Eyck’s and Aztecs wedding ceremonies
Whereas the Mendoza Cortex’s depiction of a wedding ceremony and Jan Van Eyck’s The Arnofilni Portrait (otherwise known as The Wedding Portrait) are the products of two radically different cultural contexts, a certain symmetry to the paintings can be said to exist in the basic form of the works, particularly the positioning of its main figures of the wedding couple. Such similarities are most likely the product of historical chance, insofar as Van Eyck’s work was painted in 1434, while the date of the Codex’s depiction is approximately 1553. It would be unlikely that the Aztecs who created the work at the request of Spanish authorities would have seen Van Eyck’s painting, and furthermore, if they had in fact seen it, it is unlikely to have influenced their portrayal, since the very intent of the Codex was to present an authentic account of Aztec life through Aztec aesthetics. Nonetheless, the existence of these parallels between works suggests that there are certain universal ideas concerning marriage and love that transcend cultural distinctions, and this is reflected in both Van Eyck and the Aztec portrayals. Furthermore, the attention to detail of both paintings suggests an underlying aesthetic commitment to realism.
In terms of content, both works can be said to provide an attempt to describe in a radically realistic manner a wedding ceremony of respective cultures. Accordingly, despite the first glance simplicity of the forms presented, there is a tremendous attention to detail in both works. As Harbison suggests, Van Eyck “had an eye for the kind of significant detail that can reveal something of the complexity of the lives these people led.” (47) Van Eyck tries to convey a sense of the existence of his subjects, from the apparently pregnant woman, to the accurate description of the room with mirrors and dog, wherein the painting is set, capturing that which constitutes a life of people in this time period. Van Eyck is, in this regard, dedicated to a form of realism.
Whereas the Codex Mendoza’s style appears to be more primitive, it also shares a commitment to a form of radical realism, in which the emphasis is on how those portrayed in the picture live their lives. Accordingly, the unknown artist takes care to show the exact placement of individuals within the wedding ceremony context, from the rug on which they kneel to the tying of their tunics together as a sign of traditional Aztec love. “The vivid pictorial…account of early sixteenth-century Aztec life” (Berdan & Anawalt, xi) thus strives for completeness in its conception of this important ritual of Aztec culture.
Certainly, the crucial difference in composition is the glyphic forms of the Aztec art, compared to Van Eyck’s immaculate usage of perspective. The Dutch artist clearly places perspective as crucial to his piece, creating the depth of the room in which the married couple stands. The glyphic portrayal of the Aztecs, in contrast, reflects the basic style of Aztec art, one that was unfamiliar or unconcerned with the perception of depth and perspective.
However, the most striking similarity is perhaps in the manner in which the married figures are bound together in both works: holding hands in Van Eyck, and the aforementioned tied tunics of the Aztecs. This suggests the shared metaphors and common symbolism of marriage, irrespective of culture. Marriage designates a fundamental bond of human beings, and both works are thus deeply humanist understandings of this ceremony
Accordingly, despite the immediate stylistic differences between the two pieces, they share an affinity in their commitment to realism and detail on the one hand, and the universal symbolism of love and marriage on the other. Despite being culturally specific works, both paintings demonstrate art’s capability to present universal images, understandable by all.
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