The Marriage Feast at Cana, Juan de Flandes (Netherlandish, active by 1496–died 1519 Palencia), Oil on wood

The Marriage Feast at Cana

Juan de Flandes (Netherlandish, active by 1496–died 1519 Palencia)
ca. 1500–1504
Oil on wood
8 1/4 x 6 1/4 in. (21 x 15.9 cm)
Credit Line:
The Jack and Belle Linsky Collection, 1982
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 537
This was one of forty-seven panels representing the lives of Christ and the Virgin that were made for Isabella of Castile. The picture’s subject is the marriage feast at Cana, when Christ performed his first miracle turning water into wine. The convex mirror, seen behind the married couple, is a common motif in Netherlandish painting. The preparatory underdrawing reveals a number of anecdotal details that were never painted. Their elimination could be indicative of the painter’s moving from a Flemish to a more Spanish mode, and may reflect the more austere style of presentation favored by Isabella and her religious advisors.
Juan de Flandes probably trained in the Ghent-Bruges area of the southern Netherlands but was lured away by Queen Isabella the Catholic of Castile and Léon to work at her royal court in Burgos, Spain, where he is documented in 1496. Juan’s diminutive panel represents the biblical account of the marriage feast at Cana (John 2:1–11) and the first miracle of Christ. While attending a wedding celebration, Mary noticed that the wine was depleted, and turned to her son (at the far left of the table) for a solution. Christ instructed the servants to fill the empty jugs with water, but when the liquid was poured, it had been changed into the highest quality wine. Upon sampling the wine, the steward remarked to the bridegroom on his unconventional choice of serving the finest wine at the end rather than the beginning of the feast. Juan sets the scene at the moment before the miracle occurs, as a servant pours water into a jug in the foreground. Behind him stands the wine steward, holding a covered cup from which he will taste the miraculous drink.

This panel is one of a group of forty-seven painted for Queen Isabella that was carried out by at least three artists, two of whom were court painters from the Netherlands: Michel Sittow and Juan de Flandes. An inventory of Isabella’s estate, from 1505, describes the panels as being located in a cupboard, perhaps indicating that the series was never completed nor framed as a unit. All of small size, the extant panels depict scenes from the lives of Christ and the Virgin. After Isabella’s death, thirty-two of the panels, including the Cana scene, were bought by Diego Flores, treasurer of Margaret of Austria, and brought to Mechelen where they were recorded in Margaret’s collection in 1516. It was in Mechelen that Albrecht Dürer first encountered the panels, and commented in his diary in 1521 on their "purity and quality" (Sperling 1998). In 1524 only twenty-two of the panels were still in Mechelen, and eighteen of this group were framed together in a silver-gilt diptych surmounted by the Cana panel and the Temptation of Christ (National Gallery of Art, Washington). Margaret’s diptych passed into the Spanish royal collection where fifteen of the group are mounted as a triptych in the Palacio Real, Madrid.

Juan’s composition is simplified to the bare minimum of figures needed for the theme. During the Middle Ages, the wedding at Cana was often believed to be that of John the Evangelist to Mary Magdalen, and Juan may have intended this in his depiction. Queen Isabella’s 1505 inventory describes the painting as a scene of Saint John’s wedding, and the groom’s appearance conforms to conventional images of John in which he is beardless and wears a red robe and cloak. It is also possible that the married couple may be disguised portraits of Isabella’s son, Prince Juan, and daughter-in-law, Margaret of Austria, on the occasion of their marriage in 1497, shortly after Juan de Flandes was hired a court painter (Ishikawa 2004). The man standing outside the courtyard on the left may be a self-portrait of the artist, or a representation of a court functionary. A round, convex mirror, and the cloth of honor behind the married couple are common motifs of Netherlandish paintings, and as Matthias Weniger (2011) has noted, the jugs, with their lack of handles and strongly curved mouths, are found in Netherlandish as well as Spanish paintings of the time.

Examination with infrared reflectography (see Additional Images, fig. 1) has revealed that numerous changes were made from the underdrawing to the painted layers. This underdrawing, some of which is visible to the naked eye, was carried out in two stages: a rough sketch in a black crumbly medium, probably black chalk, gone over with a quill pen in a liquid medium. In some places Juan used tiny dots of the liquid medium to mark the edges of a form, a detail of execution that is characteristic of his underdrawings (Ainsworth 2008). Originally in place of the potted plant at the lower left was a small dog, there were many more objects on the table, and the back wall was decorated with an arch upon which two sculpted putti held swags. The male figures at the far left and far right were not underdrawn, but only added in the painted stages. Chiyo Ishikawa (2004) observed that the alterations made between the underdrawing and the finished painting are indicative of Juan de Flandes moving from a more Flemish to a more Spanish mode, and may also reflect the more austere style of presentation favored by Queen Isabella and her confessor and advisor Frey Hernando de Talavera.

[Maryan W. Ainsworth 2012]
Isabel la Católica, Castle of Toro, province of Zamora (until d. 1504; posthumous inv., February 25, 1505, part of a series of 47 panels with scenes from the life of Christ and the Virgin "en un armorio" [cupboard or altarpiece with doors?], no. 25, as "las bodas de sant juan en casa de archit[r]iclino" [the marriage of Saint John in the house of the Master of the Feast]; included in unnumbered list of works sold on March 13, 1505 to Diego Flores, as "las bodas," sold for 1,875 marvedis); Diego Flores, probably as agent for Margaret of Austria (from 1505); Margaret of Austria, Regent of the Netherlands, Mechelen (by 1516–d. 1530; inv. July 17, 1516 and 1524, no. 6, as "comme Nre Sgr transmua l'eau en vin en une nopces"); her nephew, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and later Charles I, King of Spain, Madrid (1530–d. 1558); his son, Philip II, King of Spain, Palacio Real, Madrid (1558–d. 1598; inv. July 4, 1600, no. 44, as "Las bodas de archit[r]iclino"); Oderisio di Sangro, principe di Fondi, Naples (by 1895–until at least 1897; his sale, Galerie Sangiorgi, Palazzo Borghese, Rome, May 1, 1895, no. 738 bis, as "école Bolonaise du XVIIe siècle," bought in); [Stefano Bardini, Florence, until 1899; sold to Watney]; Vernon James Watney, Cornbury Park, Charlbury, Oxfordshire (1899–d. 1928); his son, Oliver Vernon Watney, Cornbury Park (1928–d. 1966; his sale, Christie's, London, June 23, 1967, no. 33, for £87,150 to Linsky); Mr. and Mrs. Jack Linsky, New York (1967–his d. 1980); Jack and Belle Linsky Foundation, New York (1980–82)
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Winter Exhibition," 1908, no. 9 (as by Gerard David, lent by Vernon Watney, Esq.).

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 22, 1998–February 21, 1999, no. 85.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions," October 24, 2008–February 1, 2009, online catalogue.


C. Justi. "Juan de Flandes: Ein niederländischer Hofmaler Isabella der Katholischen." Jahrbuch der Königlich Preussischen Kunstsammlungen 8 (1887), p. 159, no. 10, lists it with a set of forty-six pictures with scenes from the lives of Christ and the Virgin in the 1505 estate inventory of Queen Isabella the Catholic at the Castle of Toro; traces it in financial documents and inventories of Diego Flores (1505), Margaret of Austria (1516 and 1524), and Philip II of Spain (1600); supports the attribution of the 15 panels in Madrid (Museo del Palacio Real) to Juan de Flandes comparing them with his altarpiece in Palencia; questions whether the series was ever completed since the 1505 list makes no mention of a Resurrection, Christ Washing the Apostles' Feet and other scenes typical of such cycles.

Carl Justi. Miscellaneen aus drei Jahrhunderten spanischen Kunstlebens. Berlin, 1908, vol. 1, pp. 318–19, attributes it to Juan de Flandes and locates it in the collection of the Prince of Fondi in Naples.

Emile Bertaux. L'exposition rétrospective d'art.—1908. Saragossa, 1910, p. 80, attributes it, along with the rest of the set, to Juan de Flandes; lists it as belonging to "a Flemish polyptych" which originally consisted of 46 panels.

August L. Mayer. Geschichte der spanischen Malerei. Leipzig, 1913, vol. 1, p. 149 (rev. ed., 1922, p. 148), as by Juan de Flandes.

V[ernon]. J. W[atney]. Catalogue of Pictures and Miniatures at Cornbury and 11 Berkeley Square, January 1915. Oxford, January 1915, p. 18, no. 56, as by an anonymous 15th-century Netherlandish master.

J. Veth S. Muller. Albrecht Dürers niederländische Reise. Berlin, 1918, vol. 1, p. 84; vol. 2, pp. 81–83, ill., cites a diary record from Dürer's visit on June 7, 1521 to the court of Margaret of Austria in Mechelen, during which he saw a set of about forty small panels [presumably including the present work] and admired them for their clearness ("Reinheit") and quality ("Güte").

Gustav Glück, ed. Die Gemäldegalerie des kunsthistorischen Museums in Wien. Vienna, 1925, p. 171, agrees with Justi's attribution [Ref. 1908] of the set to Juan de Flandes; notes that the series consisted originally of 46 or 47 pieces.

[Friedrich] Winkler in Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Ed. Hans Vollmer. Vol. 19, Leipzig, 1926, pp. 278–79, ascribes the set to Juan de Flandes, after 1500, when the artist was already in Spain.

Ludwig Baldass in Katalog der Gemäldegalerie. 1st ed. Vienna, 1928, vol. 1, p. 111.

Max J. Friedländer. "Juan de Flandes." Der Cicerone 22 (1930), pp. 2–3, ascribes the extant pictures of the set to Juan de Flandes and refers to ours as missing since 1895.

Francisco Javier Sánchez Cantón. "El retablo de la Reina Católica." Archivo español de arte y arqueología 6 (1930), pp. 100, 102, 107–9, 120, pl. 1 (facing p. 128), as produced by Juan de Flandes for Isabella the Catholic, sometime between October 26, 1496, when the artist entered her service, and November 25, 1504, when the Queen died; transcribes and re-examines archival records and corrects the number of panels originally in the set from 46 to 47; identifies our picture as no. 25 in Isabella's posthumous inventory of February 25, 1505, where it is described as "las bodas de sant juan en casa de archit[r]iclino" [the marriage of Saint John in the house of the master of the feast], and also lists it among the pictures sold on March 13, 1505, to Diego Flores, where it is called "las bodas" [the marriage]; divides the panels into a larger group, of superior quality, which he attributes to Juan de Flandes, and a group of eight panels—not including the three which he ascribes to Michel Sittow—of inferior quality, which he acribes to a lesser painter; notes that eighteen scenes were framed as a diptych by Margaret of Austria, and that after 1530, when Charles V had twenty panels sent to Spain, the set of eighteen—mounted in a silver-gilt diptych with Margaret's coat of arms—was surmounted by the Temptation of Christ [now National Gallery of Art, Washington] and our painting.

Beschreibendes Verzeichnis der Gemälde im Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum und Deutschen Museum. 9th ed. Berlin, 1931, p. 232.

F. J. Sánchez Cantón. "El retablo de la Reina Católica (Addenda et corrigenda)." Archivo español de arte y arqueología 7 (1931), pp. 149–50, pl. 1.

"Revue des revues: Le retable de la Reine Catholique." Gazette des beaux-arts, 6th ser., 6 (1931), p. 319.

H. Isherwood Kay. "Two Paintings by Juan de Flandes." Burlington Magazine 58 (April 1931), pp. 197–201, pl. B, publishes the Marriage Feast at Cana and the Temptation of Christ as at Cornbury Park, Oxon, since 1899; suggests that Juan's series was inspired by an analogous Italian pictorial cycle such as one by [Bernardino] Butinone, now dispersed.

"Bibliographie, livres: Sur quelques tablaux au rétable de la Reine Catholique." Gazette des beaux-arts, 6th ser., 7 (1932), pp. 167–68.

H[ulin] d[e] L[oo]. Trésor de l'art flamand du moyen age au XVIIIme siècle: Mémorial de l'exposition d'art flamand ancien à Anvers 1930. Paris, 1932, vol. 1, p. 51.

Chandler Rathfon Post. A History of Spanish Painting. Vol. 4, The Hispano-Flemish Style in Northwestern Spain. Cambridge, Mass., 1933, part 1, pp. 38–39 n. 1.

Francisco Javier Sánchez Cantón. Libros, tapices y cuadros que coleccionó Isabel la Católica. Madrid, 1950, p. 186.

Neil MacLaren. The Spanish School. London, 1952, pp. 21, 24 n. 1, p. 25 n. 15; 2nd ed., rev. by A. Braham, 1970, pp. 45–46, attributes the "Marriage at Cana" to Juan de Flandes, while distinguishing several hands at work in the entire group of panels: Michel Sittow and at least three or more inferior artists, though the design of all the panels except Sittow's could be by Juan himself; suggests that the "armario" mentioned in Isabella's inventory of 1505 may imply that the panels were arranged "in an altarpiece with doors".

Juan Antonio Gaya Nuño. La pintura española fuera de España. Madrid, 1958, p. 147, no. 751.

Elisa Bermejo. Juan de Flandes. Madrid, 1962, pp. 12–13, 41, no. 2, fig. 2.

Colin Eisler. "The Sittow Assumption." Art News 64 (September 1965), p. 53.

"The Sale-Room." Apollo, n.s., 86 (September 1967), pp. 245–46, ill.

"Les cours des ventes." Connaissance des arts no. 190 (December 1967), p. 133, ill.

Nicole Reynaud. "Le Couronnement de la Vierge de Michel Sittow." Revue du Louvre et des musées de France 17 (1967), p. 346 n. 6, believes the series was left incomplete, no doubt after the death of the Queen.

Martin Davies. The National Gallery, London [Les primitifs flamands, I: Corpus de la peinture des anciens pays-bas méridionaux au quinzième siècle, vol. II]. Vol. 3, Brussels, 1970, p. 9, rejects the hypothesis that the location for the panels cited in Isabella's inventory of 1505 [see Ref. Sánchez Cantón 1930]—"en un armario"—implies that the panels were arranged in an altarpiece format [see Ref. MacLaren 1952] and instead interprets it as "in a cupboard".

Neil MacLaren revised and expanded by Allan Braham. National Gallery Catalogues: The Spanish School. London, 1970, p. 45 n. 3, p. 46 n. 20.

William Hilton Sterling. "The Wedding at Cana in Western Art of the Fourteenth, Fifteenth, and Sixteenth Centuries." PhD diss., University of Iowa, 1970, vol. 1, p. 141; vol. 2, pp. 412–14, 416, fig. 82, relates it to contemporary Spanish scenes of the Wedding at Cana emphasizing piety and marital chastity, and notes that it may portray Saint John [the Evangelist] as the bridegroom.

Ann Tzeutschler Lurie. "Birth and Naming of Saint John the Baptist, Attributed to Juan de Flandes: A Newly Discovered Panel from a Hypothetical Altarpiece." Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art 63 (May 1976), p. 123, ill. (detail of the convex mirror), mentions it with other paintings by Juan which display a fondness for reflected images, both in mirrors and in shiny armor.

Guy C. Bauman in The Jack and Belle Linsky Collection in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1984, pp. 59–64, ill. (color), views the numerous changes visible in the underdrawing to the artist's effort to reduce the genre-like aspects of the scene; draws attention to the apostle-like features of the groom noting the late medieval tradition which interprets the marriage at Cana as that of John the Evangelist and Mary Magdalen, an interpretation further supported by Isabella's inventory of 1505, which describes the picture as "the marriage of Saint John..." [see Ref. Sánchez Cantón 1930]; notes that the man on the left, partly visible behind a column outside the loggia, is thought to be a self-portrait; recognizes the influence of Gerard David in the composition of our picture, which he compares with David's version of the scene in the Louvre, Paris; rejects Kay's suggestion [Ref. 1931] that Butinone's series of panels representing the life of Christ may have served as a model for Juan; suggests that Isabella's set was incomplete at the time of her death in 1504 and that no final arrangement of the panels was realized as they were dispersed shortly afterwards; identifies the extant 28 panels and their current locations.

Guy Bauman in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1983–1984. New York, 1984, p. 53, ill., suggests that it was commissioned in about 1500 by Queen Isabella.

Guy Bauman. "Early Flemish Portraits, 1425–1525." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 43 (Spring 1986), pp. 12–13, 15, ill. (color), notes that figure outside the loggia at the left appears to be a participant portrait of some court official or possibly the artist.

Introduction by James Snyder in The Metropolitan Museum of Art: The Renaissance in the North. New York, 1987, p. 43, ill. (color).

Elisa Bermejo and Javier Portús. Juan de Flandes. Madrid, 1988, p. 84, colorpls. 2–3 (overall and detail).

Chiyo Ishikawa. "The "Retablo de la Reina Católica" by Juan de Flandes and Michel Sittow." PhD diss., Bryn Mawr College, 1989, pp. 61, 91–92, 151–58, figs. 3–5 (overall and infrared reflectograms), describes the pen underdrawing as a remarkably free contour sketch with little interior modeling; adds that the objects on the table, the architectural details and the dog in the left foreground are sketched rapidly and several of them have been altered or obliterated in the thinly painted final version; observes that the painting has a feeling of sacramental austerity while the underdrawing depicts something closer to a festive genre scene; notes that the figures on the far left and far right were not underdrawn and were added as afterthoughts; questions whether the man standing outside the loggia on the far left is a self-portrait [see Ref. Bauman 1984].

Martha Wolff, Selected by Guy C. Bauman, and Walter A. Liedtke in Flemish Paintings in America: A Survey of Early Netherlandish and Flemish Paintings in the Public Collections of North America. 1992, pp. 27, 98–99, ill.

María Pilar Silva Maroto in Les primitifs flamands et leur temps. Ed. Brigitte de Patoul and Roger van Schoute. Louvain-la-Neuve, 1994, p. 578.

Elisa Bermejo in The Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. Vol. 17, New York, 1996, p. 674.

Matthias Weniger. "'Bynnen Brugge in Flandern': The Apprenticeships of Michel Sittow and Juan de Flandes." Memling Studies: Proceedings of the International Colloquium (Bruges, 10–12 November 1994). Ed. Hélène Verougstraete, Roger van Schoute, and Maurits Smeyers. Louvain, 1997, pp. 122–24, ill., considers Juan's compositions, figure types, technique, and sensibility very close to Memling's and links the theme of the distant bystander in our painting with the similar figures in Memling's Donne Triptych (National Gallery, London) and Saint John Triptych (Sint-Janshospitaal, Bruges); comments on further decorative parallels with Memling, such as the garland-bearing putti, recorded in the underdrawing of our painting, and notes that both artists suppress the anecdotal and have a preference for sober compositions with rather statuesque protagonists.

Della Clason Sperling in From Van Eyck to Bruegel: Early Netherlandish Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Ed. Maryan W. Ainsworth and Keith Christiansen. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1998, pp. 17–18, 26, 73–74, 322, 328–29, 344, 397, no. 85, ill. (color), dates it about 1500–4; notes that both the mirror reflection and the male figure standing on the far left, who looks out of the picture, engage the viewer in a manner similar to Jan van Eyck's Arnolfini Wedding (National Gallery, London).

Dagmar Eichberger. Leben mit Kunst, Wirken durch Kunst: Sammelwesen und Hofkunst unter Margarete von Österreich, Regentin der Niederlande. Turnhout, Belgium, 2002, pp. 194, 239, 243–44, 374, 506, ill. (color), accepts Ishikawa's hypothesis that the scene contains a portrait of Prince Juan and Margaret of Austria and commemorates their wedding in 1497 (see Ref. 1989).

Chiyo Ishikawa in "'La Llave de Palo': Isabel la Católica as Patron of Religious Literature and Painting." Isabel la Católica, Queen of Castile: Critical Essays. Ed. David A. Boruchoff. New York, 2003, pp. 106–7, 109–12, 118 nn. 21, 25, ill. (overall and infrared reflectogram).

Chiyo Ishikawa. The "Retablo de Isabel la Católica" by Juan de Flandes and Michel Sittow. Turnhout, Belgium, 2004, pp. 6, 8, 14–16, 21 n. 63, pp. 24, 26, 40 n. 16, pp. 47, 51–54, 61, 63, 65, 72 n. 51, pp. 75, 89–94, 102, 146, 167, 169, 171–72, 187, ill. (color, black and white, infrared reflectogram, and reconstruction), based on a hypothesis that this picture contains disguised portraits of Isabel's son (Prince Juan) and Margaret of Austria as the groom and bride, and commemorates their marriage in 1497, dates it after October 1496, when the artist was employed by the court, and before October 1497, when Prince Juan died; notes that stylistic evidence supports such a date and remarks that changes in the final version of this painting are more fundamental than in most of the other panels, which further implies an early moment in the design of the altarpiece; elsewhere in the text places the picture between 1498 and about 1502, or in the second phase in the evolution of Juan's style and working method, closely related to his later work in Salamanca and Palencia; reconstructs the sequence of eighteen scenes that Margaret had mounted in a diptych format with an elaborate silver-gilt frame in 1527, with the MMA picture and the Temptation of Christ forming a smaller portable diptych placed atop the main altarpiece; suggests that the nail holes in the corners of our panel resulted from that installation; notes that the underdrawing shows Juan removing gratuitous and distracting details, adapting his Flemish sensibility to the more austere style characteristic of Isabel's court; transcribes the inventories and documents of 1505, 1516, 1524 and 1600 which mention our painting.

Maryan W. Ainsworth. "Intentional Alterations of Early Netherlandish Paintings." Metropolitan Museum Journal 40 (2005), p. 59.

Pilar Silva Maroto. Juan de Flandes. Salamanca, 2006, pp. 206–9, ill. (color).

Maryan W. Ainsworth. "Juan de Flandes, Chameleon Painter." Invention: Northern Renaissance Studies in Honor of Molly Faries. Ed. Julien Chapuis. Turnhout, Belgium, 2008, pp. 105, 107–8, 111, 117, 119, 121–22 nn. 7, 10, colorpl. 21, ill. p. 104 (detail), figs. 3, 4 (infrared reflectogram assembly), and 9 (infrared reflectogram detail), notes that many lively details in the underdrawing were omitted from the finished painting, presumably in an effort to simplify the composition in accordance with the sober taste of Queen Isabel's court.

Keith Christiansen in Philippe de Montebello and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1977–2008. New York, 2009, p. 36.

Matthias Weniger. Sittow, Morros, Juan de Flandes: Drei Maler aus dem Norden am Hof Isabellas der Katholischen. Kiel, 2011, pp. 29–30, 216–17, no. Juan 3.2, fig. 125.

Kathryn Calley Galitz. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Masterpiece Paintings. New York, 2016, p. 272, no. 166, ill. pp. 171, 272 (color).