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10 Weddings from Art History You Need to See

02 Jul 2021 | 0 Comments

Weddings are an important part of many people’s lives. So, it comes as no surprise that they’ve been a theme that’s regularly focussed on in the history of art.


For as long as marriages have taken place, people have done their best to record them.


However, in the days before wedding photographers, artists were the folks charged with making sure weddings were captured in all their glory.  


Illuminated Manuscript, c.1360, London


Okay, not every wedding is a happy wedding!


But you’ve got to love this tiny illustration from a medieval prayer book, showing the moment when the (not-so-happy) priest officially joins the (not-so-happy) couple in holy matrimony.


The figures are found inside the letter C - the initial letter of ‘Coniugium’, which is Latin for ‘marriage’. Let’s hope theirs was a relationship that grew over time!


The Wedding at Cana – Paolo Veronese, 1563


This lavish scene is a depiction of the famous biblical story when Jesus miraculously turned the water into wine.


It’s an enormous work of art, measuring almost 7 by 10 meters, with Jesus right at the centre of the scene, and the happy couple found on the right-wing of the enormous table.


Some of the guests who Veronese thought were worthy attendees in his depiction include the emperors of both the Ottoman and Holy Roman Empires, Queen Mary I of England, Francis I of France and a wealth of other notable politicians and dignitaries of the time.


He also made sure he got an invite, and he can be found in a white tunic playing the viola to the merry crowd!


The Peasant Wedding – Peter Bruegel, 1567


This is one of the all-time great wedding paintings, without a shadow of a doubt.


The bride can be found sat at the table, in front of the green curtain and beneath a hanging crown – as was tradition in medieval Holland.


One of the best things about this scene, is just how relatable it still is to this day!


Everyone’s enjoying a hearty combination of food, drink, music, and dance... and, in the bottom corner, as with any great wedding - there’s even a cheeky little kid grabbing their extra share of the buffet!


The Marriage Procession of Dara Shikoh, c.1740, India


In stark contrast to the Wedding at Cana above, this image is no larger than a piece of A3 paper. However, it’s by no means less intricate or detailed than the Veronese!


Inside the gold-leaf surround, we find a stunning depiction of a night-time marriage procession, which was hosted by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan for his son Dara Shikoh.


You might even notice that there is a flurry of fireworks bursting into the night sky in the background – which were used to illuminate the scene and add a little added pizzazz to proceedings.


Sadly, as with many Indian miniature paintings from this era, the highly talented artist remains anonymous. But that’s no less reason to celebrate what is certainly one of our favourite paintings in this genre!


The Wedding of Cupid and Psyche - Francois Boucher, 1744


When we think of weddings, we think of love. When we think of love, we might then think of Valentine’s Day... and when we think of Valentine’s Day, we might then conjure up an image of little baby cupid - with his rosy cheeks and tiny bow and arrow...


However, the reason we associate cupid with these things is because of the story of how he fell in love with Psyche – as shown in this painting by Boucher.


Cupid’s mother, Venus, was jealous of the attention Psyche had been getting from young men – so sent Cupid to go and shoot her with an arrow which had had its tip poisoned in such a way as to make her fall in love with the first thing she sees... hopefully something ugly!


However, as he was lining up his shot, he nicked himself with the arrow and fell in love with Psyche!


Boucher painted their wedding scene, in all its Rococo opulence, to celebrate young love and French Enlightenment ideals of equality.

Marriage A-la Mode: 1. The Marriage Settlement - William Hogarth, 1745


Sadly, we now return to a less idealistic and unhappy vision of marriage and weddings.


Here we see two families coming together to write up the contract of marriage between their son and daughter, to maintain their social standing in the upper echelons of Georgian England. 


The woman’s father, a businessman, saw the marriage as his chance to break into the nobility – while the father of the groom needed the injection of the businessman’s money into his family in order to maintain his lavish lifestyle.


The couple-to-be don’t look best pleased about the plans, though. He turns his head away from her, revealing his syphilitic neck (a lasting mark of his recent lads’ holiday to the continent) and she turns to her father’s lawyer who is trying to convince her that it is indeed a good idea.


The two dogs at the front of the scene, chained together and equally apathetic, are a sad vision of the marriage to come.


The Marriage of Queen Victoria - Sir George Hayter, 1840 


The marriage shown here proved a very different tale of love, even if its origins were in a similar lineage of arranged marriages for the sake of noble heritage and international politics.


Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were known to be very much in love, and she mourned his death – wearing black every day – for the following 40 years.


This love story began though with an impressive royal wedding, as captured here by Sir George Hayter.


All in all, 56 guests are painted, including Victoria and Albert, who both sat for Hayter in their regalia in the months after the wedding. Although, he had been present on the day – taking sketches and preparing his drawings for the final piece.


We reckon he did a pretty good job!


Les Noces de Pierrette – Pablo Picasso, 1905


It almost goes without saying, but Picasso was a man who had a few weddings himself. So, he was no stranger to being part of the special day himself.


However, here he painted a wedding party from French High Society, long before he had ever been married himself.


The ghostly figures, although they don’t look too excited about it, appear to be on the receiving end of some wedding entertainment in the form of a Pierrot.  


It’s a characteristically melancholy vision of Parisian nightlife which came to become so well associated with Picasso and his blue period.


This painting was actually from his Rose period (the left-hand side has hints of pink in there) but was a precursor for the chilling, blue series of work that would follow in the next few years of his life.


Claes Oldenburg - Wedding Souvenir, 1966


Right, now we’re at everybody’s favourite part of the wedding...  the cake!


In 1966, Claes Oldenburg, the Swedish American sculpture made this series of cake slices, out of plaster.


Oldenburg has always enjoyed making art out of the more mundane artefacts of modern life, turning them into sculptures and (like his fellow Pop-Artist friends) playing with our ideas of what art really is and how we ultimately engage with it.


If he’s saying that all cake is art... we can definitely get on board with that!


The Parent’s Wedding Photo – Nan Goldin, 1985


Finally, we have Nan Goldin’s nostalgic photograph within a photograph.


Goldin captured this shot of a photograph of her parent’s own wedding day set in the corner of a homely, old-fashioned room – evoking all sorts of ideas about family, belonging, and tradition.


Nan’s own bisexuality and close association with queer communities in 1980s America would no doubt have provided a tension with the more conservative vision of love and life captured in this photograph.


It’s an uncharacteristically uncontroversial image for Goldin - whose work is often associated with drugs, sex, and the HIV crisis of the 80s.


But, without doubt, it’s just as powerful.