Juan de Flandes, Marriage at Cana

Juan de Flandes, Marriage at Cana, c. 1500–04, oil on wood panel, 21 x 15.9 cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Expand renaissance initiative logo

[0:00] [music]

Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank: [0:05] We’re in The Metropolitan Museum, standing in front of a painting by the artist Juan de Flandes that’s showing the Marriage at Cana.

Dr. Beth Harris: [0:13] Juan de Flandes is an artist who is from Flanders, hence his name, but he’s working in Spain for Queen Isabel.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [0:21] We don’t know much about him prior to his time in Spain, but we know that he was brought to Spain by Isabel to serve in her court, and he will eventually become her court painter.

Dr. Harris: [0:30] This is a very small painting that invites us to come up very close to it and look really carefully at it. What we’re looking at is a story from the life of Christ. We’re actually looking at one of Christ’s miracles.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [0:42] Jesus is at this wedding with the Virgin Mary, and wine has run out. The Virgin Mary turns to Jesus and asks him if he would be able to make the wine flow again.

Dr. Harris: [0:53] What the artist presents us with, it seems like the moment of the miracle itself. We see Mary and Jesus on the left, the bride and groom facing us on the back, sitting in front of a cloth, and on the right side a figure pouring the water.

[1:07] You have a sense of the passage of time because the water is flowing and a sense that any second that water will turn into wine and we will actually witness the miracle taking place.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [1:18] We get some sense that the miracle is just about to happen in Christ’s gesture where he has his hand raised, where he’s blessing the water. I really do get the sense that the miracle is about to happen at any moment.

Dr. Harris: [1:28] It’s lovely how Mary’s attention is directed at Christ and helps draw our attention to him, and then we look from him toward the water which is about to be turned into the wine.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [1:39] And I love how Juan de Flandes has used a couple of other techniques to draw our eye around this scene. The red robes of the groom are mirrored in the red robes of the attendant who’s pouring the water. The blue of both Jesus and Mary’s mantles are reflected in the figure who’s behind the attendant pouring water, who’s also wearing blue.

[1:59] We’re led in these diagonals across the composition.

Dr. Harris: [2:02] At the same time, our eye is drawn directly back to the bride and groom, who are facing us at the end of the table, because of that cloth that hangs behind them where we can still see the creases and also the convex mirror, which we often see in Flemish art of the Renaissance.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [2:18] We see a lot of the characteristics of Flemish painting here, and of course, Juan de Flandes is from Flanders. We have that convex mirror. We have this attention to fine details. We have the use of oil painting here, where we have these rich saturated colors and glazing.

Dr. Harris: [2:34] In terms of details, the most fascinating is the view in the convex mirror, where it seems that we see part of the room, the part that we are standing in, it seems, as the viewers, with columns that continue the columns on the left side of the room, and beyond that a landscape similar to the landscape we see on the left. In a way, the convex mirror helps complete the space of the painting.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [2:56] I love how smooth the whole surface looks. We see very few brushstrokes in this painting. We see just a few in the jugs at the bottom right of the composition, and maybe a few in the water that’s running from one jug to the next, but otherwise it’s a very smooth painting and there’s not a lot of extraneous objects throughout the composition. It really is Juan de Flandes painting with a sense of clarity.

Dr. Harris: [3:17] And to me, drawing attention to geometries, the geometry of those vessels in the front, their rotundity, but their simplified geometry or the squared columns that we see on the left. The squares on the wall behind. We do have a geometrically ordered space here, and not a lot of decorative surfaces that would distract from that.

[3:38] The underdrawing that the artist made for this painting before he applied the oil paint has been examined by art historians, and what we’ve noticed is that there were more elements in the composition originally when he conceived it, than we see today.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [3:53] What it suggests to us is that the patron, Queen Isabel of Castile, had some say in how the final painting should look. Juan de Flandes seems to adapt his style while he’s working for Isabel.

[4:04] There’s another painting by Juan de Flandes here in The Metropolitan Museum that copies a famous painting by Rogier van der Weyden very closely.

[4:11] Here we have painting that departs from that, that does have this clarity of vision, this sense of harmonious geometry. There’s also another painting in The Met’s collection where he departs from both of these models. He clearly is adapting his style to suit the needs of his patron.

Dr. Harris: [4:28] I don’t know about you, but I want to look at this painting for a long time. It’s so beautiful and so delicate. The shadows cast on the table are especially fabulous.

[4:39] We have all the naturalism that we expect of the Renaissance, a clear illusion of space that makes sense, figures that have volume, figures who move naturalistically, and at the same time all of these lovely details that it takes time for our eye to draw out of the painting.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [4:57] It really does invite close looking. Something that I find remarkable about this painting is here we’re looking at a small painting that’s just beautiful, but this was actually part of a larger series of paintings commissioned by Queen Isabel of Castile. This is one of 47 paintings that were to depict the life of the Virgin Mary and the life of Christ.

Dr. Harris: [5:16] That’s a lot of paintings, and we know from an archival source that these were located at least temporarily in a cabinet, but it’s hard to know what they were ultimately intended for.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [5:26] After Isabel of Castile’s death, the paintings get sent to Margaret of Austria, and from there the set continues to get split apart and recombined. What that means is that today these paintings are actually found in different museums across the world.

[5:40] [music]

Smarthistory images for teaching and learning:

[flickr_tags user_id=”82032880@N00″ tags=”FlandesCana,”]

More Smarthistory images…

Cite this page as: Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank and Dr. Beth Harris, "Juan de Flandes, Marriage at Cana," in Smarthistory, May 22, 2020, accessed June 15, 2024, https://smarthistory.org/wedding-and-a-miracle/.