The marvelous Pieter Bruegel the Elder exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum (DIA), interrupted by the Coronavirus, focuses on Bruegel’s celebrated The Wedding Dance, bought in 1930 by then-museum director William Valentnier. The exhibition is the result of many years of research by the DIA team, which uncovered remarkable new information about the painting including:
Bruegel the Elder’s signature: Previously the DIA painting was the only dated but unsigned of Bruegel the Elder’s works. Thanks to the efforts of the DIA imaging team, led by Aaron Steele, the signature was discovered during imaging and technical examination. The signature was located below the “MDLXVI” (“1566”) execution date, which was first noticed when the painting arrived at the DIA in 1930. The signature’s discovery provides a basis for aligning the work with other autograph Bruegel the Elder paintings. Interestingly, the Wedding Dance also contains painting guidelines, which are nearly invisible lines that helps artists correctly position the characters of signatures / dates.
Alteration of the paintings size: Following other recent discoveries of Bruegel’s paintings being altered in size, the size of this work too was altered. While other Bruegel the Elder works have been reduced in size, The Wedding Dance was instead enlarged after it had been painted. The original top of the painting ended with what can only be characterized as an abrupt stop, cutting off the top portion of several figures and landscape objects. The DIA research team discovered that an additional strip was added to the top edge of the wooden panel to provide a horizon line to the painting, making it similar to other Bruegel the Elder works.
What makes this exhibit particularly striking is the presentation of the painting in an enclosed glass case, allowing it to be viewed from the back and sides (see photos). This provides the viewer an ability to closely view the thin board on which this masterpiece was painted.
A marvelous companion Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts (Volume 92, number 1, 2019) was published as a companion to the exhibit. Congratulations to the DIA team, including Ellen Hanspach-Bernal, Christina Bisulca, Yao-Fen You, Katherine Campbell, Becca Goodman, Blair Baily and Aaron Steele for a truly fantastic exhibit! (The DIA is scheduled to reopen on June 30, 2020).