The Arnolfini case

Original title: L’Affaire Arnolfini

Publication Date:

March 2016



Original language and publisher

French | Actes Sud

Territories Handled

Netherlands, North America, Scandinavia


Art, History

The Arnolfini case

Original title: L’Affaire Arnolfini

  • 2 Seas Represents: Dutch, Nordic, and North American Rights
  • Rights Sold: Italy (Skira), Germany (Geistesleben), Serbia (Službeni glasnik), China (Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences Press), Spain (Acantilado).
  • Over 23,000 copies sold
  • Preface by Daniel Pennac


This work commands respect: we don’t know much about the two characters and situation presented to us.(…)What’s more, the painter arranged a multitude of objects in the painting, confusing us further: a dog, a chandelier, some candles both blown-out and lit, a sandal on the ground. In fact, this picture merits deciphering, as if it were the epitome of an enigma. It is in this that Jean-Philippe Postel invites us into his book, a sort of plan for us to learn to really look at a 15th century painting. — Guillaume Erner, Charlie Hebdo

There are some books that keep you in suspense from the first page to the last. THE ARNOLFINI CASE is one of them. This old general practitioner, worn out by clinical observation procedures, attempts to crack the mystery surrounding the spouses Arnolfini, one of the most captivating and discussed masterpieces in art history, painted by Van Eyck around 1434.(…) With a sharp eye, Jean-Philippe Postel will draw out the solution to the enigma from the very heart of the image. Precisely, it is the futile desire for an impossible conclusion that make us dream all these possibilities. Exhilarating. — Daphné Bétard, BEAUX ARTS MAGAZINE

In the small but legendary work of Van Eyck, it is not necessary to pride oneself on appearances. Nothing is as simple as it appears at first glance. Postel dissects the painting layer by layer, studying his history and reception before systematically analyzing the symbols it holds, along with numerous details that are particularly enlightening but practically invisible to the naked eye. — Maureen Marozeau , L’ŒIL

The life of Van Eyck is largely unknown to us, even more so the origin of this painting. But the painter placed multiple markers in his painting like a treasure hunt for enlightenment of the senses. For that, Jean-Phillipe Postel leads the investigation and combs through all the relevant literature on the subject. We won’t spoil the surprise following the scientific investigation that devoured us whole like Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None — Guy Duplat, La Libre Belgique

Is this picturesque fiction, an instruction book, or an autobiographical account? This thriller will leave you breathless. Jean-Philippe Postel captures our attention and strips away, page by page, detail by detail, the illusion of this masterpiece. — Corinne Rondeau, Art Absolument

Going in circles around symbols, scrutinizing other Van Eyck portraits, multiplying hypotheses, referencing a canon relative to “Purgatory or a Treatise on the Apparitions of Spirits” of 1759, Jean-Philippe Postel gives us a word game to decipher. This analysis that neglects not a single detail is captivating. — Jérôme Serri, Lire

A book offering a fascinating exploration of a magnificent multilayered work of art.

The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck: a full-length double portrait, believed to depict the Italian merchant Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini and his wife, presumably in their home in Bruges. The work is a timeless, admirably crafted piece. However much has been written about it, the work is still shrouded in mystery. We know something’s missing but we don’t even know what we’re looking for. To our knowledge, before Van Eyck, no painter had ever represented a man and a woman in a bedroom. Since the late 19th century, a whole host of works have tackled the question: “Who are they?” And it would seem the most important question in hand. Thus far, however, it has proved unanswerable. Perhaps the real question should be: “What are they doing?” It looks as all the clues we need have always been there, right in front of our eyes…

Born in Paris in 1951, Jean-Philippe Postel practiced medicine between 1979 and 2014. He calls The Arnolfini Case, “the application of a pictorial work to methods of clinically attentive observation.”