Dictionary of Art and Artists


that Changed the World


  Lascaux Caves Manesse illuminated Massys Callot Friedrich Picasso
  Tutankhamen's tomb Lorenzetti Grunewald Rembrandt Constable Matisse
  Europa and Minotaur Karlstein Castle Baldung Claude Lorrain Delacroix Marc
  Banquet Tomb Limbourg brothers Altdorfer Velazquez Turner Kandinsky
  Pompeii Van Eyck Cranach Vermeer Ingres Monet
  Birth of Christianity Della Francesca Holbein Rigaud Manet Chirico
  Hagia Sophia Uccello Titian Watteau Burne-Jones Modigliani
  Book of Kells Mantegna Bruegel Canaletto Seurat Chagall
  St Benedict Botticelli Vicentino Boucher Van Gogh Kahlo
  Bayeux Tapestry Anonymous Arcimboldo Fragonard Toulouse-Lautrec Dali
  Donizo manuscript Durer El Greco Gainsborough Munch Ernst
  Liber Scivias Bosch Theodore de Bry John Trumbull Cezanne Hopper
  Carmina Burana Da Vinci Caravaggio David Gauguin Bacon
  Falcon Book Michelangelo Rubens Gros Degas Warhol
  Giotto Raphael Brouwer Goya Klimt  

From Lascaux to Warhol

Supreme art is a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truth,
passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius,
but never abandoned.

William Butler Yeats




To You Have I Given Myself

Nuptials and marriage in the Middle Ages



My dearest, of you alone I think day and night. Your red lips take all that is sad from me. To you have I given myself. Your own will I be, with you to live in joy until my ending.

Hans Leo Hassler, taken from a new German madrigal in the Gallic mode, late sixteenth century



"The beginning was sweet and good ..."
Blessing the Bridal Bed,
Bernard Picard (1673-1733)


In the Middle Ages, banquets were particularly sumptuous, and above all those for a wedding's celebration: partridges and woodcock, cheese and pastries, nuts and dried fruits — banqueting boards piled high groaned under the weight of such delicacies. In fact, governing authorities were often forced to counteract the excesses of such festivities with ordinances regulating how many guests might be invited and how many courses served. The ordinances, however, were not always effective. It was difficult to forbid lavish spreads and excessive drinking, or to prevent guests from dancing after a banquet. By the end of such wedding festivities, the men were often so drunk that brawls were the order of the day.

A wedding has always been one of life's great events. And, in fact, most people had little choice about whom they married at that time since marriages were usually arranged by families. The needs of the family and the desire to advance its position in society dictated the terms, and as a result influence, money and power were what counted. Naturally, there were always those who advocated marriages for love and not money or influence, though even love matches could not guarantee future happiness, as a fifteenth-century Flemish song shows: "The beginning was sweet and good when I was courting my wife. Now heart, mind and soul have turned. I regret the first steps I took, poor man that I am. She rules the roost and I am like the chickens." In those days people often married very young and a Church ceremony was not the norm. Nuptials, at which marriage vows were exchanged in the presence of two witnesses, were a purely secular matter. They often took place at home, in larger rooms or even in bedchambers, but the ceremonies were seldom recorded in paintings for posterity.

However, the wedding portrait The Arnolfini Marriage, by the Early Netherlandish painter Jan van Eyck, is a notable exception. Michele Arnolfini, the scion of an Italian mercantile family from Lucca who had settled in Bruges, is depicted with his bride Elizabeth. This pictorial marriage certificate, however, could never guarantee that the couple would stay together. Divorce was possible even then: "Since it is known that we cannot remain together — the devil has wrought this and God does not want us to be together — it is best that we dissolve our marriage ties." Thus a Merovingian divorce formula that was in use for a long time. Nevertheless, divorced people, like the unmarried, were socially ostracised. In Flanders an ultimatum was issued to a man of thirty, if he was still a bachelor. He was given a time limit within which he had to marry or he would have to endure the humiliation of being recorded in what was known as the "Book of Disgrace". If he didn't marry after all, he may well have done what old maids, priests, monks and nuns of necessity did, and sought comfort in St Augustine's words: "Those who die unmarried, shine like stars in Heaven."


Jan van Eyck
(с. 1390-1441)
The Arnolfini Marriage


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