Where is the bridegroom? Its always been a famous puzzle in Bruegel’s ”Peasant Wedding” . For four hundred and fifty odd years this famous painting of a rustic marriage feast has presented Bruegel’s admirer’s with the riddle of identifying the groom. There has always been agreement and dissent…
”No painter before him had dared produce such works. Contemporary art generally regarded peasants as figures of mockery, considering them stupid, gluttonous, drunken, and prone to violence. It is as such that they appear in satirical poems, tales, and Shrovetide plays: as a well-known negative type, an object of laughter. They were used by authors to amuse the reader, and also to warn him to beware of bad qualities and wrong behaviour…. Yet we must ask if The Peasant Wedding Banquet (1568) in the barn – to take but one example – was really painted with the intention of keeping the observer from gluttony. Men and women are sitting solemnly and thoughtfully at table; the helpers are carrying round a simple porridge on a door which has been taken off its hinges; the bride is sitting motionless under her bridal crown. On the right, a monk is conversing with a gentleman dressed in black. Though wine or beer is being poured into jugs in the foreground, there is no trace of drunkenness or gluttony among the wedding party. Indeed, they do not even appear particularly cheerful. Eating is portrayed as a serious activity. Moreover, the wall of straw or unthreshed corn and the crossed sheaves with a rake serve to keep in mind the labour by which the food is wrested from the soil.”
In the ”Peasant Wedding” , the wedding party is held at a farm, evidently the bride’s home. Since the farmhouse is too small to accommodate all the guests, the meal is served in the barn. Everything is makeshift. We even have a slight feeling of embarrassment for the bride, who is so carefully dressed and yet has to celebrate her wedding in the barn, where she has often milked cows or stacked turnips. The room is only half of the barn. The other half is still full of hay, which forms the rear limit of the picture.
Two sheaves and a rake are hanging in a fine decorative pattern on the wall of hay at the right. Perhaps these were the last sheaves of the harvest; as such they will be emblems of fertility, to be kept until the next harvest comes in. The last sheaf was sometimes called the Maiden or the Bride. The bride’s family has made an effort to set her off by hanging a curtain behind her, like the tapestry behind the seats of the lord and lady in noble families. It is not nailed up; it is slung from a rope stretched between a post and a pitchfork stuck in the hay. At the far left we can see more farm implements hanging up.
The seats, too, are improvised. Benches, a stool, even an upturned tub. And the food is carried in, not on trays, but on a door taken off its hinges and supported on two poles. The floor has been swept clean; but, to remind us where we are, Bruegel has painted in the immediate foreground at the right, with exquisite detail, a single straggling straw.
The guests have reached dessert. Remains of the first course, bread and meat, are visible here and there on the table. Now the guests are getting custard pies, some plain and some flavored and colored with saffron. The drink is beer, served in large tankards. Almost all the guests, dressed like the beplumed child in thick peasant clothes, are country folk. Only a few have distinctive costume. Bruegel intended these few to attract and retain our interest.
The bride herself is a healthy, blowzy heifer, with an expression of self-satisfaction which is hardly attractive. Most girls on their wedding day are either desirable or leaning toward the awkward and somewhat pathetic. She is neither. She is almost a parody of the Lovely Bride.She is not eating. She does not want to commit a faux-pas by ingesting a large mouthful , or drinking beer and belching; and she wants her breath to remain sweet for the evening.
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