After Jan Sanders van Hemessen (Hemiksem, circa 1500 – Antwerp, circa 1556)
The Weeping Bride

16th century
Oil on wood
66.5 x 78.5 cm

Inv. D.2009.4.6

On loan – private collection

Major works | Parody on Parade

A funny sort of bride

Flemish art sets particular store by satire, as evidenced by this work, which is exceptional in more ways than one. The original model, attributed to Jan Sanders van Hemessen, forms part of the Prague National Museum collections. Only two versions are listed to date: one in a private collection and the other the one owned by the museum.

The theme, difficult to fully comprehend at first glance, has an undeniable satirical and popular dimension. The bride, fearful of the notorious wedding night, first appears in Flemish painting at the turn of the 16th century.

Compared with previous depictions, Jan Van Hemessen is bold enough to innovate by concentrating the composition on figures with only the tops of their bodies visible, thereby removing the maximum of anecdotal details. Only the chamber pot, perhaps a symbol of virginity, has been kept. Only three figures remain: the bride, flanked by an old man and a young one. Another significant reinterpretation is that the bride is no longer young and beautiful but repulsive and wrinkled. We then wonder which of the men is her husband. The pot is no longer held by the bride but by the young man, which may suggest that he is the chosen one. Satire would then endeavour to portray an uncommon marriage between people of different ages.

This scene is a perfect illustration of the Flemish satirical genre that is at once blunt in its depictions and subtle in its interpretation.