PARTY PRECEPTS: The Parable of the Marriage Feast by Brunswick Monogrammist
Banquets are often celebrated to mark important events or occasions. They are suitably featured in the Bible as well. Right from Abraham who called for a great feast when Isaac was weaned to Jacob’s wedding party. Not forgetting the first miracle of Christ at the wedding feast of Cana and of course Herod’s birthday bash that terminated with the tragic execution of John the Baptist.
Biblical Banquets also entailed certain characteristics. They were partaken at dusk and generally included a second call to those who had already been invited. Occasionally it involved supplying each guest with a robe to be worn at the feast. The guest sat in accordance to seniority and rank. The halls boasted of viands and wines, of exotic spices and perfumes, of brilliant robes and flowers, of merry singers and dancers and of indulging jest and jollity.
Reckoning these party precepts, today’s painting invites us to the parable of the marriage banquet. It echoes the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 22, verse 1 to 14. This painting is executed by Brunswick Monogrammist, an anonymous Netherlandish painter of the 1500’s. It was his forte to paint complex works of art that featured secular revelry and a discreet message.
At first glance however we are lost! The Gospel scenes are sprinkled across the painting. Swarms of colourful figures sweep the exquisite set. The palatial plush indicates that this is no ordinary banquet. It is the royal wedding of the King’s son. An invitation to such an event should inevitably find room on one’s calendar. The date would be circled and saved. But what happens here is the contrary.
As was popular in most Dutch paintings, the story begins at the background. The royal guards mounted on horsebacks summon the guest to the king’s banquet but in vain. They snub him and refuse to come. The King does not give up. He graciously extends a second summon honeying the descriptions of the elaborate preparations.
The guests pay no heed. They abuse and murder the king’s servants. The disaster to be followed is indicated through the drooping barren tree on the left as compared to the brimming oak tree at the right. Oak symbolizes strength and righteousness in Christian art.
The party however is still on. In his third summon the king invites everyone to the wedding feast, the good and bad alike. This time, as observed in the painting, the torches are lit, the curtains hailed and the hall is filled with guest. The invitation is extended to not only the able but also the challenged.
Occupying the foreground are three distinct individuals; a visually challenged man being led by his dog; a crippled man supported by his crutch and a poor woman cuddling her baby with the second nudging at her robe. Allegorically they stand for the kingdom values of Faith, Hope and Charity.
The gestures of the people seated around the table in the courtyard stand by these values. A man in blue robe passes on some snacks. The woman across the table makes space aiding her neighbour to take his seat. Righteousness seems to fill the air.
But what about the one who has not imbibed these Gospel values?
This brings us to the climax. As the melodious trumpet airs the court, the guests at our right revel in wine and song. The gracious king moves around greeting his guest. He suddenly notices a man not wearing the ‘wedding garment’. The fate for breaking this party precept is brutal. The man is stripped, bound and thrown into the dark where there is ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Thus ends the parable of twists and turns; of Divine love, disobedience and retribution. The parable of the wedding banquet is a common metaphor of the messianic banquet of God. Which part of the audience do we adhere to?
Joynel Fernandes- Asst. Director- Archdiocesan Heritage Museum
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