Those are some funky clogs, Jan!

Every once in a while, when you get a chance to view a famous painting in person, or – in my current situation – at home looking at a high-resolution image online, you notice something that you hadn’t noticed before. I’ve seen Jan Van Eyck’s 1434 masterpiece, the “Arnolfi Portrait,” reproduced in books or online numerous times, but for some reason, I had never noticed those funky wooden clogs in the lower left corner. Check them out (below left), I can’t imagine those were very comfortable to walk around in. Scroll down for more …

wooden clogs from Jan Van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait

Considering that neither subject – husband or wife – is in need of these wooden clogs, one might wonder why are they included in the painting?

Many of the objects in the painting serve a symbolic purpose, to reflect the financial status of this couple. Both figures are wearing furs, and a close look reveals a gold necklace on the wife. The Wikipedia entry on this painting goes into amazing detail about numerous things in the painting, but doesn’t mention the clogs. I’ve seen two different interpretations: one, by the Encyclopedia of Art Education, suggests that the wooden clogs would have been worn inside (when not wearing regular shoes) in order to keep bare feet clean from any street dirt that might have accumulated on the floor. However, an “amateur fashion historian” on Quora suggests that they were meant to be worn over slippers while out on the street, functioning as “stilts” in order to elevate the person above “the muck and filth which was everywhere outside the home in early medieval history.” The idea of them as “stilts” is interesting to me, but to suggest that “muck and filth” were everywhere at that time? Huh? If we have any medieval scholars out there who want to chime in, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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One thought on “Those are some funky clogs, Jan!

  1. They are patterns, worn over the shoes, to prevent contact with the bi-product of the main form of transport in 1430, horses, who left behind an awful lot of fertilizer. You had people who for a small coin would sweep you a path, but most rich would take a carriage to the houses they wanted to visit, but you still had to get into the house and avoid any deposits your own horses had created in getting you there.

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