BRUEGEL, Pieter the Elder
(b. ca. 1525, Brogel, d. 1569, Brussel)

Peasant Wedding

c. 1567
Oil on wood, 114 x 164 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Painted about 1567, this picture has traditionally been thought of simply as a depiction of peasant life. However, it seems likely that, in addition to the obvious celebration of peasant life, the picture has a moral dimension - the celebration of the sacrament of marriage has simply become an excuse for self-indulgence. Whereas in his earlier engraved work Bruegel represented the Vices as elaborate allegories peopled by Boschian monsters, here human weakness is commented on in an understated, naturalistic and humorous manner.

The wedding feast is dominated by the figure of the bride who, radiant and composed, presides over the table beneath a canopy. Less obvious is the identity of the bridegroom; he may be the man in black, with his back to the spectator, leaning back on his stool, mug in hand, calling for more wine. The feast is taking place in the barn, the wall behind the guests consisting of stacked-up straw or corn. Two ears of corn with a rake call to the mind work that harvesting involves. The plates are being carried around on a door taken off its hinges. The principal form of nourishment in those day consisted of bread, porridge and soup.

A curious detail of the scene which has never been satisfactorily explained is the presence on the far right of a richly-dressed nobleman in earnest conversation with a monk. The monk has presumably just conducted the service of marriage and it has been suggested that he is tediously reminiscing about previous weddings he has attended to the local landowner.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 26 minutes):
Johann Sebastian Bach: Cantata BWV 212 (Bauernkantate)