Susan here …
Lately in our house, we're thinking about all things wedding – one of our sons is getting married in a couple of weeks. The Wenches have written scores of historical novels and described a variety of weddings (or at least we've nudged scores of heroines and heroes in that direction), so historical brides and grooms are of keen interest around here. Today I'm bringing you weddings, brides, and grooms throughout history (art history) …
As I put this together, I began to notice the shared details of clasped hands and tender gestures from early depictions to later examples too. Love is a universal thing, and couples united in marriage — and the artists who portray them — can convey their deep love, affection, and commitment to each other in the smallest, subtlest, most meaningful expressions and gestures. Enjoy this wedding gallery!
Tutankhamun and his queen and half-sister, Ankhesenamun, are shown here and elsewhere in tender poses that indicate genuine affection. While marriage in ancient Egypt did not require ceremony – in lower status households, a man could set up a home and bring a woman into it, and she would become his wife by virtue of moving in with her property, often with a simple contract agreement regarding property. Royal marriages were sealed with ceremony and ritual as well as contracts, though pharoahs could have several wives and consorts, with usually one Great Royal Wife, or queen.
An ancient Greek wedding ceremony done in high relief – note the gorgeous drapery and the bride's veil, and the clasping of right hands. The veil and hand clasp is seen in many wedding traditions throughout time — though a ritual bath, a haircut for the bride, and an animal sacrifice, often part of ancient Greek wedding ceremonies, did not carry far into other cultures!
Here, King Henry III marries Eleanor of Provence in 1236 — note the precious little ruby ring he slips on her finger! I love the charming size difference here – it may mean that the English king was considered more significant than his French consort, or it may be the artist's attempt to show the physical characteristics of a tall man of about 30 beside a young bride who was perhaps 13 that year. They were married for nearly forty years and had five children — and Eleanor was said by her own contemporaries to be far tougher to deal with than her husband.
OK, so it's not a medieval painting, but it is a medieval subject — and such a beautiful example of Victorian romanticized illustration that I had to include it! Here, in a mural by William Hole, Margaret of England, later Queen Margaret of Scotland, arrives in Scotland for the first time, welcomed by King Malcolm Canmore, in the 11th century. They married soon after they met, and had a long, happy, supportive marriage that produced eight children, six of them later kings and queens. My novel, Queen Hereafter, is about Margaret — one of the most fascinating of medieval queens. (And we've just discovered through genealogy work that my little granddaughter, through her mom, is a 27th generation direct descendant of Margaret and Malcolm – so now I'm especially thrilled about Margaret and Malcolm's marriage!)
The Arnolfini Wedding, Jan Van Eyck, 1434, is one of the best known medieval images of a wedding. It's believed that Giovanni Arnolfini and his bride, possibly Jeanne Cenami, are depicted in a ceremony of some kind. More recent scholarship upends the long-held view that the painting is a visual document, with new research indicating that it is possibly a memorial to a wife who died in childbirth. No matter the actual circumstances of the double portrait, its precise, articulate beauty is unmatched, as is its mystery. Old or new theories aside, it will always be a quintessential and exquisite portrait of a marriage.
Another portrayal of a marriage ceremony by Rogier Van Der Weyden, a little later than the Arnolfini portrait, with interesting similarities. Here, a traditional ceremony is shown, with the typical clasping of right hands (one of the most interesting and most-debated details of the Arnolfini marriage is the clasping of left and right hands, indicating something out of the norm, however mysterious and known only to the artist and his subjects). Note that here the bride and groom are wearing red – a very popular and often-seen garment choice in medieval weddings, according to artistic portrayals.
This gorgeous, widely-known painting by Rembrandt has long been called "The Jewish Bride," and thought to depict a bride and groom (or young husband and wife). While more recent research and theory suggest that the couple may not be Jewish after all (Rembrandt sometimes used models in his paintings who came from Amsterdam's Jewish quarter), it is a loving, intimate portrayal of a devoted couple, and is not only a dazzling masterwork, but shows Rembrandt's uncanny ability to convey not only portrait quality, but heartfelt emotion and subtle depths of character. Compare the tenderness here to that in the image of Tut and his bride, or Arnolfini and his bride, with small gestures in common.
In October 1609, the painter Peter Paul Rubens married Isabella Brandt, and painted their double portrait that year. Once again we see that familiar, tender gesture of the joined right hands that here also signifies the pledge and commitment of marriage. They were married for 17 years until her death. A few years later, Rubens married Helena Fourment, Isabella's 16-year-old niece–said to be a love match, and she was also said to be a great beauty who modeled for many of her husband's paintings, including images of Venus, Andromeda, the Three Graces.
Edmund Blair Leighton, who painted in the later 19th – early 20th centuries, was fascinated by earlier eras, particularly Medieval, Regency and Georgian, and in keeping with the later phase of Pre-Raphaelite trends and interests, painted lush, romantic, emotional images from myth, legend, literature and his own highly romantic imagination. "The Wedding March" shows a bride and groom and wedding party leaving the church. The bride, in her gorgeous gown of tiered lace ruffles, could look at little happier, while her new husband looks at her with a hint of concern and even bewilderment–there must be a story there!
In "The Wedding Register," Edmund Leighton painted an utterly gorgeous portrayal of a bride signing the register as part of her commitment to her groom, who looks on, and to the marriage that has just begun. Richly romantic, it is a quintessential Victorian image that allows the viewer to step quietly into the moment to be part of the wedding day.
What's your favorite of these wedding images, and do you have a favorite wedding, either in art or in a story, to share?