8 Over-the-Top Weddings from Art History

From boozy banquets to beheadings, you’ll find it all at these nuptials

The Kardashians would have had trouble keeping up with these couples. Across cultures and centuries, the betrothed pictured in these works of art spared no expense—or guest—on their big day. Several of these works were commissioned to celebrate the marriage of some of history’s real-life power couples, like that of Isabella of Parma and Joseph II. In other cases, the weddings were drawn from fiction, or the artist’s imagination.

Perhaps you can take some tips from these weddings if you’re planning your own nuptials this wedding season!

1. Party till the break of dawn

So many merry-makers have been invited to this 16th-century Flemish wedding that a door has been taken off its hinges to use as a serving table! This is hardly a solemn spiritual gathering: almost everyone in the painting is absorbed in food and drink.

Peasant Wedding by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1566-1569. (Collection: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.)

The figure passing out dishes to the guests, arm outstretched, leads our eye to the bride: she sits calmly in front of a piece of green cloth on which a paper crown has been hung. If you’re looking for the groom you won’t find him… It’s generally thought that the bridegroom isn’t present, as dictated by Flemish custom at the time.

Detail from Peasant Wedding by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1566-1569. 

2. A feast fit for a king

In October 1760, Isabella of Parma married Joseph II at Vienna’s Hofburg Palace. The long tables are set for dessert and laid with porcelain and gold utensils. But most of the delicious-looking dishes were only for display— like the elaborate sugar centerpiece in the form of a garden that spans the inner length of the table.

Wedding Supper by Martin van Meytens, 1763 (Collection: Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna,)
Detail from Wedding Supper by Martin van Meytens, 1763 (Collection: Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna,)

Where’s Wolfgang? Look very closely: the little boy in the musician’s box on the right-hand side - who looks out at us instead of down to the festivities - is probably Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart!

Detail from Wedding Supper by Martin van Meytens, 1763.

3. Toasting the newlyweds

This 19th-century Russian oil painting depicts the union of two powerful 16-17th century aristocratic families. The well-heeled guests toast the newlyweds as a servant arrives with the last course of the meal: a roasted swan. The union of two prominent families such as these would have been one of the most important social and political events of the day.

A Boyar Wedding Feast, by Konstantin Makovsky, 1883. (Collection: Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens, Washington, D.C.)
Detail of A Boyar Wedding Feast, by Konstantin Makovsky, 1883.

4. The wedding crashers

In this drawing from a 15th -century manuscript, an inappropriately-attired wedding invitee is—rather violently—booted out of the posh party. Not the royal treatment he had in mind!

A Royal Wedding Feast; An Unsuitably Dressed Guest Cast into Darkness, by a follower of Hans Schilling, from the workshop of Diebold Lauber, 1469. {Collection: The J. Paul Getty Museum, California.)
Detail of A Royal Wedding Feast by a follower of Hans Schilling, from the workshop of Diebold Lauber, 1469.

5. Till death do us part

In this late-18th-century French tapestry, the extravagance of the aristocratic wedding guests is highlighted by the presence of a beggar, woman and child in the foreground, whom they appear to ignore. The decadence wouldn’t last much longer, though: the father of the bride, featured in the tapestry, would be hanged just after the fall of the Bastille in 1789.

The Four Ages: The Marriage of Antoinette de Bertier de Sauvigny to the Marquis de la Bourdonnaye (Les Quatre Ages: La Promenade), from the Manufacture Royale de Beauvais, 1778 – 1780. (Collection : Cincinnati Art Museum, Ohio.)

6. Flashing the cash

Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan ruled India in the 17th century; this 18th- century painting depicts the wedding of his son, Dara Shikoh. The Shah clearly broke the budget on these festivities: Dara Shikoh rides an elaborately-decked out stallion; there is music and dancing, and fireworks are set off as he advances.

Detail of The marriage procession of Dara Shikoh, artist unknown. 1740-1750. (Collection: National Museum, New Delhi.)
Detail of The marriage procession of Dara Shikoh, artist unknown.

7. Dressing to impress

The female members of the elegant wedding party at center are dressed in exquisite silks and lace. Their attire sets them apart from the bullfighter and his female companion at right—and the man behind them, who carries an effigy of a soul engulfed in flames.

Detail of The Spanish Wedding, by Marià Fortuny, 1870. (Collection: Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya - MNAC, Barcelona.)
Detail of The Spanish Wedding, by Marià Fortuny, 1870.

8. Bridezilla on the rampage

This 17th-century etching recounts the story, from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, of the wedding of the Greek hero Perseus to Andromeda. Andromeda had been promised to Phineus; at the banquet, Phineus attempts to kill Perseus, but fails. Chaos ensues— until Perseus brandishes the head of Medusa, turning his attackers to stone. Now that’s a bridezilla!

Phineus Attacking Perseus at the Wedding, by Wilhelm Janson and Antonio Tempesta, 1606. (Collection: Los Angeles County Museum of Art.)

Throughout history, weddings have often been public events, with processions, feasts and spectacles in which the entire community was invited to share. As such, wedding celebrations – from peasant dances to ornate parades – have consistently provided a rich source of artistic inspiration.

By Rebecca Appel
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