Ms. Deborah Thomas
November 18, 2011
Jan Steen, Marriage at Cana
Jan Steen’s Marriage at Cana can be found at The Norton Simon Foundation. It was created by Dutch painter Jan Steen in 1676. The painting stands at a descent size at 3.375 x 43 in. (79.7 x 109.2 cm) in the hall designated to European Art during the 17th and 18th centuries in the Norton Simon Museum. Jan Steen is highly known for his oil on canvas. This particular painting is also a work of art that is oil painted on canvas.
Marriage at Cana depicts the story of Christ’s first public miracle that was performed during a wedding feast in the small village of Cana found in Galilee, Israel. This scene from biblical studies appears in the second chapter of John. During a wedding feast, Christ’s mother whispers in his ear that the wine has been exhausted. Jesus claims that he is not ready but carries on. He asked the servants to fill six stone jars with water, and then miraculously transformed them into the finest wine. Notice how Steen never depicted the miracle directly; instead, he used the excuse of the miracle to paint an extravagant wedding party and feast. Jesus’ presence is hardly noticeable as he performs his miracle quietly in the middle ground on the left-hand side, identifiable only by a dim halo. Eyes modestly downcast, he is surrounded by an array of cheerful and disorderly characters celebrating the wedding, most of whom are oblivious to the miracle that just occurred. In the middle for example, stands a woman carrying a napkin full of leftovers, trying to discourage her drunken husband from sampling the “miraculous” beverage that had just appeared. To the right, behind her, a meaty cook oversees the feast, identified by his dirty white apron and a cloth for handling hot platters thrown over his right shoulder. He offers wine to the guests of honor, the bride and groom, seated under a grand canopy. Above, musicians play on the balcony, while everyone down below celebrates the joyous event. To the right, small dogs are shown as a sign of fidelity. Steen’s treatment of the religious subject matter demonstrates his flirtation with historical and contemporary events. In his perception, as depicted in the painting, drinking in the celebration of love is equal to that of Christ’s first miracle. The guests are holding up their glasses for a toast, but most are unaware of the dramatic transformation that has taken place. Although the guests had no recurring awareness of the miracle that had taken place, Christ’s disciples were in awe and amazement. This scene is important, because after this it was the first time when his disciples became extremely faithful and devoted to Christ. Steen also uses depiction of light as a technique to, ironically, highlight the guests of honor, the bride and groom. Although the bride and groom are not the intended subjects of the painting, he casts the light appearing from the window on the left-hand side wall onto the head table where they are seated. The modest Christ is left in the darkness of the middle ground, without any sort of depiction besides his dim halo. Through the use of detailed work, Steen executed the theme of the painting.
All of Jan Steen’s works of art were produced in the Netherlands, where most Dutch artists compose their artworks. Although Steen funded many paintings for the painters Guild of Saint Luke, there were no specifications as to if Marriage at Cana was commissioned or created for a specific patron. Marriage at Cana seems like an ordinary painting depicting a wedding at first, but when it is looked over carefully the viewer can see the subject matter in the middle ground on the left-hand side. When Christ is identified as the subject matter, the story behind the painting is also identified. Other minor details, such as the barrels and Christ’s disciples surrounding him can be used as iconographic information that might help to...