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For the love of art: married life on canvas


Shreya Alagramam from

Throughout history, marriage has been among the most popular subjects portrayed in art. From ancient Egyptian tomb paintings to contemporary pieces, artists have captured the beauty and complexity of marriage in their works. These paintings provide a glimpse into the lives of married couples throughout history and occasionally offer insights into the cultural and social norms of the time. Some of these famous artworks depict wedding ceremonies or festivities, while others show love and connection between partners. In this article, we will explore some of the most famous paintings about marriage and love.

The Arnolfini Portrait" by Jan van Eyck

The Arnolfini Portrait, painted by Jan van Eyck in the 15th century, is a masterpiece filled with hidden meanings and symbols that reflect the social and cultural norms of the time. The painting depicts the wedding of Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini and his wife. It is notable for its intricate detail and use of light and shadow. The painting celebrates the institution of marriage as well as the wealth of the merchant class which was on the rise during the Renaissance period. The fine details in the painting, such as the couple's clothing and the various objects in the room, symbolize the social status and importance of the couple.

Another important symbol in the painting is the convex mirror, which hangs on the back wall and reflects the couple and two other figures in the room. The mirror has been the subject of much debate among scholars, with some arguing that it represents a divine presence, while others argue that it serves as a reflection of the painter's technique. However, many others believe that the mirror symbolizes the wealth and status of the couple, as mirrors were expensive and rare objects at the time. Overall, the symbols in the Arnolfini Portrait provide a fascinating glimpse into the beliefs and values of 15th-century European society and serve as a testament to the enduring power and beauty of art.

La Mariée" by Marc Chagall

La Mariée is a painting created by Marc Chagall, a renowned 20th-century artist. The painting was completed in 1950 and depicts a young bride in an almost dreamlike fantasy setting. The bride is wearing a white veil and a bright red dress. The contrast between the bride’s bright-coloured dress and the gloomy background reflects the nature of marriage itself since marriage is filled with both ups and downs.

The background is full of fantasy elements including a goat playing the cello and a fish leaping in the air. This is typical of Chagall’s unique style where he blends the real and the imaginary in his art. Many experts interpret this piece as the artist presenting the bride to the viewer. All of these elements come together to create a painting that is at once personal and universal, reflecting the human experience of love and marriage in a way that transcends historical boundaries.

The significance of La Mariée extends beyond its artistic and cultural value. For many, the painting is a powerful symbol of hope and resilience in the face of adversity. Chagall created the painting in the aftermath of World War II, a period of great upheaval and destruction in Europe and beyond. In this context, La Mariée can be seen as a celebration of life and love in the face of darkness and despair.

Marriage a la Mode" by William Hogarth

Marriage a la Mode is a series of six paintings created by William Hogarth in the early 18th century. The paintings depict the disastrous marriage between the son of a wealthy aristocrat and the daughter of a wealthy merchant. The series serves as a social commentary on the excesses and moral decay of the upper classes in Georgian England. Through the use of satire, Hogarth highlights the importance of compatibility and mutual respect in a successful marriage. The paintings are filled with symbolism and hidden meanings that reflect the nature of society at the time, including the importance of social class and the role of women in society.

In the first painting, "The Marriage Settlement," the father of the bride and the father of the groom are shown haggling over the terms of the marriage settlement. The bride and groom themselves are seen completely ignoring each other. This painting highlights the transactional nature of marriage during this time and the importance of wealth and social class in determining a suitable marriage partner. As the series progresses, the relationship between the couple deteriorates, with infidelity, deceit, and betrayal. The paintings serve as a cautionary tale about the dangers of ignoring the importance of love and respect in a successful marriage.

“Mr and Mrs Andrews” by Thomas Gainsborough

Mr and Mrs Andrews is a famous painting by Thomas Gainsborough, completed in 1750. The painting depicts a recently married couple, Robert Andrews and Frances Carter, standing in their expansive countryside estate. The composition of the painting, with the couple positioned next to each other in a beautiful landscape, symbolizes the unity and harmony of their marriage. This painting also portrays the couple's wealth and status, with the elaborate clothing, hunting gear, and luxurious landscape surrounding them. The scene conveys a sense of calm and contentment, suggesting that the couple is happy and fulfilled in their marriage.

Although both Robert and Frances came from wealthy families, their marriage combined their wealth and made them even richer. This may be why the right side of the painting is dedicated to showing off the vast expanse of Robert’s estate, which had expanded considerably in size after the marriage. This is reflective of the attitude towards marriage at the time since many people married to move up in society rather than for love exclusively. The sheaves of corn in the background are symbols of fertility, which reflects the importance that society placed on having multiple children at the time. Overall, this painting represents the idealized image of an aristocratic marriage in 18th-century England, highlighting the importance of wealth, status, and social position in the institution of marriage during this time period.

“The Kiss" by Gustav Klimt:

The Kiss is an iconic painting by the Austrian Symbolist painter Gustav Klimt. Completed in 1908, the painting depicts a couple locked in a passionate embrace, surrounded by a shimmering and intricate pattern of gold leaf and decorative motifs. The painting is both sensual and decorative, reflecting Klimt's interest in exploring themes of love, desire, and the human form. The use of gold leaf and decorative elements also reflects Klimt's interest in the Art Nouveau style, which was popular in Europe at the time. The painting has become one of the most recognizable and beloved works of art in the world, and is considered a masterpiece of the Symbolist movement.

This painting has also played a significant role in shaping the trajectory of modern art. Klimt was a leading figure in the Vienna Secession, an art movement that emerged in Austria in the late 19th century. The movement was a response to the conservatism of the art establishment, and it sought to break free from traditional art forms and styles. Klimt's innovative use of decorative elements and his rejection of traditional techniques paved the way for the development of abstract art and other avant-garde movements in the 20th century. As such, The Kiss remains a symbol of artistic freedom and a testament to the power of creativity to challenge conventional norms and expectations.

In conclusion, there are several famous paintings throughout human history that portray marriage in different ways. From the intricate symbolism of the Arnolfini Portrait to the passion and tenderness of The Kiss, these works of art provide a glimpse into the lives of couples throughout the ages and offer insights into the social beliefs of the past. Whether celebrating the institution of marriage or depicting the struggles and sorrows of love, these paintings continue to inspire and move us with their timeless beauty and emotional power. As we continue to create and enjoy art that depicts marriage and love, we honour these important themes and the essential role they play in the human experience.

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