Scene of a peasant wedding

Peasant Wedding Painting: An in-depth analysis

Most renaissance paintings focus on biblical or real-life heroes, kings, queens, and other important personalities. However, artists like Pieter Bruegel were drawn to the life of the everyday people we meet in passing. “Peasant Wedding” is one such painting by Bruegel that portrays those people who are often overlooked by society. 

A Genre Painting

Scene of a peasant wedding
Peasant Wedding (1567) by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Public Domain

“Peasant Wedding” is a form of genre painting. A genre painting portrays the life of common people engaged in a chore or an activity of everyday life. Usually, no specific identity may be attached to the subjects of these paintings. 

This allows the viewers to identify themselves with the subjects more closely and easily. These paintings may be further of various art styles such as realistic, romantic, or expressionistic.

The subjects of “Peasant Wedding”

The Setting

The frame captures a crowd of about twenty people in a barn-like space. A long table is set near the yellow wall around which the guests are seated.   The walls are made either of stacks of hay or clay.

The wall has been decorated with neatly trimmed stacks of grain put in place with a rake. This particular decoration reveals that it is the autumn season of harvesting. 

While to us these are common people, to them this event will be quite memorable. The engagement of the subjects in the event and the warmth of the scene draw us in so that we feel included as well.

The painting has been made in such a way that no one, in particular, catches the eye. As a result, it forces us to look around the room just as one would at a party. The moment we step into the room we might notice a lot of people eating and mostly drinking.

The subjects

A man on the bottom left may be seen pouring what seems to be beer in a smaller jug so that it may be passed around. The fact that beer is made from grains and is one of the cheapest forms of alcohol further reminds us about the modest lives of peasants.

On the right are two men holding a sort of wooden plank with flat bowls of food. The food looks like a paste in a bowl, probably porridge. A server is handing out the food in a hurry, almost spilling it as he passes a bowl to the guests. 

Subjects in the Peasant Wedding (1567) by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Public Domain

If you look closely you’d notice that this wooden plank on which the food is served is a door with an iron hinge still attached to it. This not only reveals their poverty but also their ingenuity in using the best available resources to make the process as smooth as possible. 

Toward the right side of the table, we see an old man with a white beard seated on a high-back chair. He is the notary, a person who legally witnesses the wedding. On the notary’s left, we see another figure dressed in a  grey-brown coat, engaged in a conversation with a man. The man in a coat is a Franciscan monk who is probably there to bless the new couple. 

The monk is speaking to another nobleman who seems to be the local landowner. Near his feet, a dog pokes its nose from under the table to eat scraps off the seat. A child in the lower left corner may be seen licking a bowl of pudding.

The Bride

The artist clears the way so that we can see the bride seated in the center. Behind her is a dark green cloth with a traditional wedding crown hanging above her head. She is wearing a crown with intertwined leaves as a symbol of her virginity. 

The bride is very passive not engaged in the festivities, sitting with folded hands and half-closed eyes. It was believed that the wedding day would be the bride’s one day of rest in a lifetime of labor that is ahead of her. 

An Analysis of “Peasant Wedding” 

It is important to understand why Pieter Bruegel the Elder felt the need to depict the life of peasants in most of his work. While Bruegel worked in big cities like Brussels and Antwerp, like most high society people he seems to be attracted to simplicity. 

More than simplicity Bruegel even tried to highlight the importance and hard work of the lower classes that were usually overlooked. In the Peasant wedding specifically, the artist takes us to a very modest wedding feast that is simple yet lively and happening.

The whole painting is a very candid snapshot of a warm experience. One of the most unique features of the painting is the conversation. The moment we look at a subject, we can either tell exactly what they are saying or at least the tone of their voice may be ascertained. 

For example, you can hear the man in the front asking for his beer to be refilled or the two people on the right in deep conversation. Over this chatter, you may also hear the shrill distinct melody of the bagpipe and the clattering utensils.

Bruegel lures us in with his warm, welcoming tones of red, yellow, and orange, inviting us to a vibrant celebration of a marriage. The painting’s low perspective, which appears to display the scene from the same angle as a standing observer helps us to feel present in the celebration. 

Conclusion

There are no records about the commissioning of Brugel’s most famous painting “Peasant Wedding” which makes it quite difficult to ascertain the purpose of the painting. On one hand one may see a moral message in the meager feast while on the other it may simply be an intimate glimpse of life in the 16th century. Although the subject of this painting was not unique in Dutch artworks of the time, it had never previously been approached with such generous detail and accuracy.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the meaning of the peasant wedding?

Pieter Bruegel the Elder painted the peasant wedding in 1567. He made several other paintings centering around the simplicity and hard work of the poverty-stricken masses in society. 

In Brugel’s “Peasant wedding we see a wedding feast taking place in barn highlighting the agricultural life of peasants and their simple life, one which the upper-class people often yearn for. 

Who is the groom in the peasant wedding?

The Peasant wedding depicts a wedding feast being held according to dutch and flemish culture. According to Flemish tradition, the bride was not allowed to eat or talk before the festivities began, and the husband was not permitted to arrive until after dark.

What museum is the peasant wedding in?

The Peasant Wedding Painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder is presently at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. The Museum is also known as  “Museum of Art History” or “Museum of Fine Arts”

What is the genre of peasant wedding?

Pieter Bruegel’s 1567 painting “Peasant Wedding” is a Genre Painting. A genre painting portrays the life of common people engaged in a chore or an activity of everyday life. It is a Renaissance painting, more specifically it is a Flemish Renaissance painting.

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