Acquired from the above by the father of the present owners;
Thence by descent.
Despite the enduring fame of the Vienna painting, this is one of only four examples of the composition painted by Pieter Brueghel the Younger. Of these only one example can be certainly dated, that now in a Brussels private collection, which is signed and dated to 1622.1 This is also on a panel of similar size to the present painting (75 x 105 cm.). Recent examination of the present picture under infra-red reflectography has revealed that it bore a signature and date - 1622 or 1623 -which appears to have been a later addition. On grounds of style however it seems likely that it was painted in the first part of the 1620s.2 The third example, which is signed but not dated, is in the Museum voor Schone Kunsten in Ghent. The form of the signature, P. B..EUGHEL, as with the other two examples, is that used by Brueghel the Younger in his works after 1616.3 The fourth and last example, neither signed nor dated, is another panel formerly in the collections of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, and last recorded in an auction in Zürich, Galerie Koller, in November 1977.4 Ertz lists a further six examples of varying dimensions, which he considers to be of doubtful or copies. Later in the 1620s Pieter Brueghel re-used the figure groups of the wedding but set them out of doors in a village setting; one example is dated to 1626 and the other to 1630.5
As Klaus Ertz has observed, Pieter Brueghel the Younger has followed his father’s design faithfully, only changing the composition by shortening the wall of hay behind the feast table, altering the colours of the clothes of one or two of the wedding guests, and by introducing an amorous couple into the hayloft directly above them. Ertz has speculated that such fidelity indicates that he may have had access to his father’s original painting, but this is difficult to support for certain from available evidence.6 As he was only five when his father died in 1569 the younger Brueghel would not have seen the original – probably itself only painted a year or two previously – in his studio. The earliest history we have of the Elder’s painting is that it was acquired by the Archduke Ernst of Austria in 1594 in Brussels, and remained there until the following year, and this is probably the only time at which Pieter Brueghel the Younger may have been able to see it in the original. Small details in the design suggest that this is feasible. The present painting includes, for example, the detail of the laces or Nesteln that hang from the red cap of the man in a white apron carrying the table laden with porridge bowls in the foreground (see fig. 3), present in the original but absent in all of the other versions. Middendorf has suggested that these may help identify the figure as that of the groom, who by custom would entertain the wedding guests while the bride sat at the family table, and may have been worn as a protective fertility charm.7 Other writers have suggested that the groom may instead be represented by the figure of the man pouring beer into the stoneware jugs in the left foreground, but Klaus Demus has rejected this idea on account of the un-boorish appearance of the figure, whose attire suggests instead that he may the landowner’s servant.8 Though claims have been made that Pieter Bruegel the Elder intended some satirical or even political meaning in his original painting, its tone is more one of sober realism, with all the figures carefully and sympathetically portrayed. To these are added a delightful sense of gentle humour wrought from perceptive observation – the child licking the pan with is fingers, the bagpipe player wistfully eyeing the bowls of porridge – to which Pieter Brueghel the Younger has added some deft touches and colour of his own, making the scene as accessible to the modern viewer as it would have been to their counterparts nearly four hundred and fifty years ago.
1. Ertz 2000, no. E 857 (E = Echt or authentic).
2. A comprehensive report of the infra-red examination of this painting by Tager Stonor Richardson, dated 3 May 2017 is available upon request.
3. Panel, 69.9 x 105.2 cm. Ertz 2000, no. E 858.
4. Panel, 71.5 x 104 cm. Ertz 2000, no. E 860.
5. The first, on panel, 115 x 172 cm., was sold London, Sotheby’s 12 December 1984, lot 43; Ertz 2000, no. E867, and the second panel, 73 x 104 cm., sold New York, Christie’s, 31 May 1990, lot 128; Ertz no. E 868, both reproduced.
6. K. Ertz in Brueghel – Breughel, exhibition catalogue, Essen, Vienna and Antwerp 1997/98, under cat. no. 135.
7. U. Middendorf, ‘Breughel-Brueghel, oder: Hochzeit ohne Bräutigam’, in Weltkunst, February 1998, pp. 286–87.
8. K. Demus, in Pieter Bruegel d. Ä. Im Kunsthistorisches Museum, Wien, Vienna 1997, p. 129. The red cap and the white kitchen aprons for serving the guests are also thought to have been worn by grooms at weddings.
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