barber institute of fine arts
university of birmingham


Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617 – 1682)

The Marriage Feast at Cana

Seville, about 1672

Oil on canvas

179 x 235 cm

 

Christ performs his first miracle, turning water into wine at the marriage feast at Cana.

The painting was commissioned by Don Nicolas Omazur, a Flemish silk merchant who lived in Murillo’s hometown of Seville and who was his main patron.  He is shown with his wife in the centre and the work was therefore probably painted to celebrate and sanctify their own marriage in 1672.  The ornate costumes and the rich objects that adorn the feast reflect their wealth.  In contrast, the miracle itself is shown as an everyday scene, with the servants filling seven large Sevillian water pots.

 

Purchased 1947 (No.47.9)

 

During Black History Month 2018, this painting was the focus of an alternative interpretation by UoB students in English, Drama and American & Canadian studies. They produced labels which interrogated artworks in our collection which depict, refer to, or have been collected from people of colour. This was a collaboration with the Barber’s Learning & Engagement Team; artist and poet Dzifa Benson; and Dr Asha Rogers, Lecturer in Contemporary Postcolonial Literature.

Here are two alternative labels below:

 

According to Murillo,
The wedding feast of Omazur and his bride was attended,
By a few dozen of Seville’s elite
And executed by fewer of his subordinates.

Jesus was there,
Exported straight from the pages of John,
Though placed in a corner,
Able to work his miracle from far enough away
So that the new couple’s portrait was uninterrupted.
The bride drawn in ivory and blue and liberally decorated with gold
At her ears and haloing her head
While her husband leant into her and smelt the new Arabian perfume at her neck.

Sweet meats and pastries snaked around the room
Bobbing through the sea of the crowd
Like a ship’s lost cargo;
Aubergines from China and desserts warmed with spices from Sri Lanka.

Quite apart from the noise,
Jeshua was painted in red wearing the jacket reserved for special occasions only
Feeling the sweat drip from him as he wrestled with the impractical Sevillian vases.
The shouts of More wine, more finally allayed by the sudden transformation
From the transparent thinness of the water to its new earthy blood colour.

And he thought how incredible it was
That it had been only two years since he had started breathing Spanish air.
The miraculous and the menial looked into one another
And neither knew which was which.

Anon.

 

Chinese Whispers

Soft curves and amber glows,
Supple lines and flowing water.
Eyes drawn to the centre,
Party in circular motion.
Ears hear dulcet tones,
Feel the warmth of bubbling chatter.
But seats and plates empty,
And shadows of silence return.
Only the distant concrete stands
To remember the voices of people past.

Tall ceilings and pillars,
Stand beyond the paths of light.
Their sharp lines are mirrored,
In overlooked corner structures.
Absorbing, echoing,
Melodies of people they’ve seen.
Whispers of history are sewn
Into the borders of table cloth.

Hushed voices embroidered,
Inside smooth silk and golden thread.
Ripples in the fabric,
From trades over sea and far lands.
Silence pushes against,
The uneasy tales of lost and found.
Chinese whispers echo,
All around, in hidden darkness.

                           Kirmjeet Kaur Ghag, BA English Literature.

 

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