The Dance of the Bride


Pieter Bruegel I
(Breda) 1526/ 1530 - Brussels 1569
oil on panel
119.5 x 168.5 x 0.7 cm
Inventory number 973

A jumble of dancing figures go into a frenzy of movement without beginning or end. From the mid-16th century, farmers appeared in art not only as hardworking countryfolk, but also in scenes such as The Dance of the Bride: carousing, dancing, idling and generally exhibiting sinful behaviour that was diametrically opposed to the prevailing 'middle-class virtues' of diligence, piety and sophistication. All the characters featured in this painting have simply let go. Their wild movements are far-removed from the formal dance of the dignified townsfolk. They are throwing their limbs around in an open-air feast, which was entirely inappropriate in the eyes of the well-off burghers, who could not get enough of this kind of painting. They regarded such scenes as representations of another world, as a warning or a reprimand, or even an escape.
Many of these peasant scenes go back to examples by Pieter Bruegel I. This particular rendering is a fairly accurate copy of the original by Pieter I, now held by the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Where is the bride?

The green, white and pink touches in the painting create a strong sense of movement, so that the gaze of the viewer is offered no repose. Instead it continues to move around in circles in search of the bride, the central figure, who is barely identifiable. A hint for the attentive viewer: she is dressed in black, and her hair, unlike that of the other women in the painting, is not covered.

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