de jonckheere old masters

Marten van Cleve

The wedding dance outside

Panel: 94,3 x 122,3 cm
Circa 1570


Considered as a follower of Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Marten van Cleve reveals all his inventiveness in this wedding celebration. While the theme is indeed borrowed from the pictorial production of the Brueghel family, the painting's style and originality shows an independent and innovative artist. Van Cleve was undoubtedly influenced by the peasant life inherent to Brueghel’s paintings, but this composition is unique in its rendering of one of the most widespread subjects of the era.

Just like Brueghel, Marten van Cleve found the subjects for his paintings in scenes of daily life, especially peasant feasts and celebrations. Peasant weddings were a favourite subject which he portrayed in numerous panels. The version presented here draws direct inspiration from two sources. First of all, a wedding scene painted by Pieter Brueghel the Elder dated 1566, currently kept at Detroit Institute of Arts. Secondly, an engraving by Pieter van der Heyden based on a drawing by Pieter Brueghel the Elder. Van Cleve copies the position of the three couples dancing in the foreground. The couple composed of the bride and groom is just behind and is also taken from the painting in Detroit.

Contrary to numerous small-sized paintings portraying this subject, this work appears to be an exception in Marten van Cleve’s body of work. Here he offers a far more spacious and airy scene. He proves his artistic prowess by succeeding in making the married couple the focal point of the celebratory dance. In any case, they certainly aren't overshadowed by the couple dancing in the foreground. Through the position of the bride and groom’s arms, van Cleve invites us to enjoy the rest of the scene. The painter homogenously deploys the guests in an effort to harmoniously integrate them into the landscape that fills the background. His focus on the landscape and its details significantly differentiates him from the Brueghels. With extraordinary mastery, he manages to create a completely balanced composition in technical and iconographic terms. His fluid brushstroke and the style of the figures, in particular their features and the way they are dressed, further emphasises this difference. Moreover, the dark contours so characteristic of Brueghel don’t appear in van Cleve’s work. The cleverly applied colours make this painting a unique work in the artist’s oeuvre.

Marten van Cleve is an exceptional artist, as seen through his use of colour, his artistry and the texture and aesthetics of his landscapes. Painted on planks of wood dated circa 1559, a recent analysis shows that this work was executed around 1570. It is also similar to two other versions: one that has been in a private collection in Brussels since 1969 (Ertz 2014, p. 195, cat. no. 127) and another - whose current whereabouts are unknown - that was known to be in the hands of the dealer Houthakker in 1934.

Provenance :
Private collection

same artist