The Penny Wedding by Sir David Wilkie

enter image description here

In the bottom right corner of a painting there is a set of items - a basin, a plate... - I wonder what are these items for (the basin especially) and why are they standing there, on a floor, far away from a dining table.


After some googling I've found a comment on the painting at "Bride Ales and Penny Weddings" by R.A. Houston - and these items are mentioned:

Originally entitled "The Scotch wedding", David Wilkie's painting , "The penny wedding" (1818), was geographically vague, though the Highland piper in the centre background looks decidedly out of place. Wilkie had toured the Highlands in 1817 before he painted "The penny wedding" and was particularly influenced by Perthshire. but he chose to fudge the geography of the celebration. If anything the costume is Lowland and the earlier Dutch-genre paintings of Scottish weddings on which his work drew, such as Emanuel De Witte's "The village dance" or "Lowland wedding", were explicitly Lowland, The clothing is at least a generation out of date. From this and the even older still-life artifacts in the immediate right foreground, we must conclude that the artist sought to suggest to his primarily English audience that this was something from the past. As articulations within a recognized order of symbols, clothes signified both time period and political orientation, here perhaps suggesting that Scottish society was moving on. Similarly the token Highlander indicates that the Highland threat had long passed and that Highlanders should be derided, pitied or romanticized. In Scotland itself a process of displacement was also taking place - perhaps perceptual, perhaps real - for contributory bridals became generically known during the eighteen century as "country weddings" where before they were prominently urban. Thus Wilkie drew on the ideas of the Romantic movement to give his viewers an image of what they wanted to believe about Scottish society.

  • 2
    It's possible that they're there simply for artist reasons, e.g. to balance the composition.
    – Steve Bird
    Oct 6, 2016 at 9:13
  • @SteveBird good point - but to me the painting seems to be well-thought, I mean all these small details like stuff on the walls - so I'm not sure that painter had balanced the composition with a set of random items.
    – Usurer
    Oct 6, 2016 at 10:55
  • Given the general clutter of the back of the room, doesn't the inclusion of the foreground items add to the impression that the people are dancing in a confined space? Without them, you'd have a open space at the bottom right. Oct 6, 2016 at 11:18
  • 1
    There are sketches of the "Penny wedding" where those items are missing or replaced by some sort of wet spots on the floor: fasedinburgh.com/artwork/1372 On lager reproductions (the-athenaeum.org/art/display_image.php?id=479886), they seem to be dishes, a glass and a bottle. Thus, i'm guessing they suggest that on the wedding displayed there, people just had removed some tables to make room for the "dancefloor".
    – tohuwawohu
    Oct 6, 2016 at 11:36
  • @tohuwawohu - That would make sense. I'm seeing another table awkwardly crowded up against a wall. It looks like it has some of the same stuff on/under it. Make an answer out of that, and you get a vote from me.
    – T.E.D.
    Oct 6, 2016 at 13:19

2 Answers 2


It's a punchbowl with lemons, sugar, a strong spirit in the brown stoppered bottle, and a some nutmeg or cinnamon in the silver "pepperpot", and a large serving ladle.

Why is it on the floor? I don't know, just to display it clearly? I don't think it has any significance other than indicating they'd been drinking hot punch.

  • Don't you mind if I'll create a separate answer to combine your reply with info provided by other community members?
    – Usurer
    Oct 7, 2016 at 15:39
  • Do what you want ... none of this matters Oct 7, 2016 at 16:45
  • There appears to be similar punchbowl on the table at the back of the picture.
    – alephzero
    Jul 19, 2017 at 15:07

Here's a closer look at those items:

enter image description here

At least the bottle, the glass, the pewter pitcher (??), the pot containing something sugar cubes (???) and the dish with some fruit (lemons???), are expected to be placed on the table. So, they may indicate that one or more tables had to be removed so there's enough free space to dance (since it's a penny wedding, people had to use the present venue for the banquet even it's quite cramped for such an occasion). It may also indicate the point of time shown on the picture - at the end or after the banquet, the dancing has just begun.

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