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Gerard David

Gerard David (Ouwater, 1450-60  – Bruges, 1523), The wedding at Cana 1523, oleum on wood, cm 100 x 128, Paris, Musée du Louvre

The work of the Flemish painter is very rich from the iconographic point of view. Full of figures, beyond the accurate reproduction of the Gospel (cf. John 2, 1-11), the scene shows different levels.

We notice first on both sides, at the bottom, the figures of the donors, which means those who commissioned the picture: they are the rich Castilian merchant, established at Bruges for business reasons, Juan Sedano – represented on his knees at the left with his son behind him – and his wife Maria, kneeling on the right side. It is probable that the merchant commissioned this picture on his admission to the Fraternity of the Precious Blood, which emblem – a silver crown of thorns braided and scattered with drops of blood – is embroidered on the man’s coat.

Now we observe the central scene. The Virgin Mary, on whose right sits the married couple has just requested that the servants to do what Jesus tells them: Our Lord has asked the servants to serve from the pots full of water. That is exactly what they are doing, as they have carried the pots to the table. The miracle is about to happen. Everything is suspended, the expression on the faces show embarrassment and fear, it is yet uncertain if the problem will be sorted.   

The only one face to face with Jesus is Mary, his mother, who has invited the servants to place all their confidence in Jesus, and who, in a certain way has caused the miracle herself. As John the Evangelist reminds us, “Such was the beginning of the signs Jesus accomplished.  It was at Cana of Galilee. He manifested His glory and his disciples believed in Him” (v. 11).

If we observe the richness of the room where the marriage has taken place and the beauty of the buildings that may be seen on the square that opens at the left, we will realise that the painter has updated the setting of the Wedding of Cana to Bruges to the first half of the 16th century. With the presence of the two donors, alive at the time and so, contemporaries, the painter has desired that each one of us, the spectators, must feel what happened at Cana as something touching, compelling, and contemporary.