Smoke and mirrors may seem an invention of relatively modern magic, but mischievous artists have been using these tools for much longer than that.

Arnolfini portrait and hidden clues

At first glance, this 15th century painting by Jan van Eyck appears to be a simple image of a couple to celebrate their marriage. But look closer, almost every detail is symbolic.

What about the exotic (at least for the Netherlands back then) oranges, the carving of St. Margaret atop a dragon and even the domestic setting of the bedroom, which have all been interpreted as signs of fertility. Although, alas, it was not to be – Constanza Arnolfini died a year before the portrait was painted, likely during childbirth.

Notice anything else? The chandelier only has one candle lit on the left, whilst the one on the right has been snuffed out. A reference to her death, while he still lived perhaps? Then there’s the graffiti on the wall – in the style of many school children to come, the artist has written “Jan van Eyck was here 1434”… but where is he? Well, follow the sightlines to the vanishing point and in the convex mirror you can see his reflection, raising one hand in greeting!

It’s all in the details here, and the same is true of our 21st century escape rooms right here in Toronto. If you like uncovering hidden meanings, try The Red Room. There are no words, just visual clues…. are you in the 3% who can escape?

Image credit: The Arnolfini Portrait, by Jan van Eyck – visit the real thing next time you’re at The National Gallery.