Friday, March 9, 2012


("The Groom Presenting the Bride to His Mother," Jacob van Oost, The Younger, 1680, Columbia Museum of Art, Columbia, South Carolina)

If you are not one who finds in-law relationships "amusing," you will probably wonder why I have chosen this painting for the "Just Gotta Laugh" series.

Please allow Dr. Merry to explain some basic facts of married life.

First of all, you never marry one person when you tie that blissful marital knot.

No, indeedy!

You marry that one person AND that one person's entire family.

At least it sure seems like it for a lot of folks out there.

Let's have a little reality check:

Many people have never heard of - gotten a glimpse of - or spoken a word to their future in-laws until that awkward, scary moment when "THE MEETING" finally takes place.

In fact, in many cases the in-law mate would not even know their in-laws existed if it wasn't for the institution of marriage that brought them together in the first place.

And yet, in-law mates are expected to accept, honor and love their in-laws as soon as it is humanly possible to do so.

Preferably within 42 seconds of the initial meeting.

Jacob Van Oost, The Younger's painting, "The Groom Presenting the Bride to His Mother," is a wonderful visual representation of that fateful, first time meeting between the future daughter-in-law and her mother-in-law to be.

Painter Van Oost was known for his beautifully balanced compositions with accents of bright, rich colors.

Just look at the bride's canary yellow gown!

It literally pops off the canvas with light, volume and delicate flourishes.

We see a bevy of silky pleats, tucks, braids and at least one hard-to-miss bow.

What about that regal, stand up lace collar with its matching cuffs?

That gorgeous gown is dripping in the finest Flemish lace.

"Mom's" ensemble doesn't fare quite so well, does it?

In fact, her dress - although accessorized by a beautiful lace collar, cap and cuffs - is, to say the least, a bit underwhelming.

Perhaps this woman is a widow in mourning.

That would certainly account for the missing father-in-law as well as for the mother's dark, drab attire.

I've gotta say that I'm loving that peachy peek-a-boo sleeve and those apricot leggings the groom is sporting.

Look closely at the opening of his waistcoat.

A peach colored tie is hanging demurely inside his coat.

There's just a smidgen of silky peach fabric turned back toward us, the viewers, isn't there?

And what about that spiffy little bow that fastens the sides of his coat together?

I'm thinking that this young gentlemen is stylin' to the nth degree!

Well, enough about the threads.

Let's get to the real fun - an examination of this family's bodily expressions.

First of all, no one is smiling.

We can't really fault them for that because portrait smiling wasn't chic in the 17th century.

A lot of folks wanted to hide their not so gorgeous teeth.

For me, the hands in this portrait are mesmerizing.

The bride' fingers on her left hand are clasping that fan for dear life.

The groom's left hand is gently grasping the right hand of his bride in a typical chivalraldic hold.

Nothing unusual there.

But look at the groom's right arm.

It is completely outstretched and angled toward his mother.

With that definite pose, the groom seems to be inviting his bride into his mother's circle of influence.

Notice the fingers of his right hand.

They are bent and curled inward fist-like.

I may be crazy - that's a story for another time -  but I think this dedicated son is feeling some definite stress here!

"Mom's" hands are planted languidly but firmly in her lap.

They appear to be contained, non-inviting and partially hidden as well.

Body language speaks volumes, doesn't it?

Let's take a a look at the subjects' eyes.

Initially, I thought the bride's eyes were focused on her mother-in-law.

They are not.

In reality, she is staring out into the far distance - certainly in the direction of her mother-in-law but she is not looking specifically at her.

"Mom" is sitting too far back in the foreground for the bride's eyes to be focused on her.

And who is "Mom" looking at?

Why, us, of course!

Even though her head is turned to her left in the direction of her son and daughter-in-law, she's clearly got her eyes trained on us, the viewers.

What about the man of the moment?

Now it gets tricky, doesn't it?

At first glance it looks as if he is looking at his lovely bride-to-be.

But is he?

Although this could be a close call,  I think he's actually looking at us, the viewers.

This is the way I see our dapper groom:

I think part of him wants to look at his bride.

And he knows he should be looking at his bride.

But he's not looking at his bride.

Not really.

Why should we care about who's looking at whom anyway?

Here's a thought:

If the eyes really are the "windows to the soul" as many of us have been taught to believe, it matters a lot!

We read emotions through the portals of the eyes.

By studying the eyes, we are often able to decipher a person's true feelings.

What, then, might our bride be feeling?

Since she's not looking at either her groom or her mother-in-law, she may well be thinking something like this:

"Gee, on second thought,  I'm not so sure I want to sign up for a lifetime with these people.  When's the next coach out of here?"

What about "Mom's" feelings?

Because she is looking directly at her viewers, I think it is obvious she is drawing us into the emotional drama of her touchy situation.

It's as if she is thinking:

"People!  Are you paying attention here?  Does my beloved son look happy to you?  And just who is this canary colored interloper who is swooping in to take my son away from me?"

Finally, there is the young man himself.

What does he seem to be telling us with his eyes?

I think this boy is seriously conflicted!

He is quite literally caught up in the middle of this emotionally charged situation.

He wants his bride to have good feelings for his mother - what son wouldn't want that?

And he wants his mother to have good feelings toward his bride for the same reasons.

I believe those eyes of his are bringing us, the viewers, into his dilemma.

He might be thinking something like this:

"Do you folks see what kind of a mess I'm getting into here?  I'm starting to get some serious cold feet!  Do I really want to marry this woman?  And if I do marry her, will she and Mom learn to live together peacefully? Or will they end up killing each other?"

Ahh - family life - the "fun" never ceases, does it?


Not when you're dealing with a myriad of personalities - all with highly intact egos.

I'm convinced that the only way to stay sane - and alive - in the midst of some family interactions is to use a liberal dose of humor.

I'll let ya'll know the second that starts workin' for me.

1 comment:

  1. Great analysis...your writing is very fun, and I love this painting--it captures so well the angst and uncertainty of those relationships!