Christ is shown here at the scene of his first miracle—the transformation of water into wine. He stands at the banquet table of a wedding, his right hand raised in a gesture of benediction, while a servant, pointing to the clay jars on the floor as if to explain what has just taken place, offers the bridal pair a goblet of the transformed liquid.
That the artist has absorbed the traditions of 15th–century Flemish painting is evident in his mastery of the oil technique and his meticulous rendering of texture and minute detail. Combined with these elements are purely Spanish ones, such as the solemn faces with downturned mouths and the recognizably Spanish costumes.
The unidentified artist's name is derived from his principal work, The Altarpiece of the Catholic Kings, of which this panel is a part. Visible among the heraldic devices are the insignia of provinces united by the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella. The additional presence of the Holy Roman Emperor's coat–of–arms implies that The Marriage at Cana also alludes to two contemporary weddings significant in European history—those of Ferdinand and Isabella's daughter Juana in 1496 to, Philip the Fair, the son of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I of Austria, and their son Juan in 1497 to the Holy Roman Emperor's daughter, Margaret of Austria.
on border of tablecloth: AVE*GRATIA*PLENA*DOMINUS*TECU BENEDICTATU*INMUILERIBUS (Hail full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women) (Luke 1:28); on border of Christ's tunic: QUID MIHI ET TIBI EST MULLER (What have I to do with thee, woman?) (John 2:4); on towel over shoulders of attendant on right: SA*RN*VMT / AEN*D*VI; on border of Mary's mantle (in relief, deciphered with infrared reflectography): OVOSONRVM
Marks and Labels
Possibly commissioned for a convent or church in Valladolid, Spain. Before 1919, José María de Palacio, Conde de las Almenas, Madrid; sold 28 March 1919 to (Frank Partridge and Sons, Ltd., London). Dr. Preston Pope Satterwhite [1867-1948], New York, by 1933; possibly purchased by (French & Co., New York). purchased 1941 by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York; gift 1952 to NGA.
- Exhibition of Spanish Painting, The Brooklyn Museum, 1935, no. 6.
- Spanish Paintings, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1937, no cat.
- Spanish Painting, The Toledo [Ohio] Museum of Art, 1941, no. 27.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1951, 180, no. 79.
- Mayer, August L. Geschichte der spanishchen Malerei. Leipzig, 1922: 145, fig. 113 (also Spanish ed. Madrid, 1942: 166, fig. 135).
- Post, Chandler Rathfon. A History of Spanish Painting. 14 vols. Cambridge, Mass., 1930-1966: 4, pt 2:418-419, fig. 164.
- Mayer, August L. "Pinturas castellanas procedentes de la colección Rojo y Sojo." Revista española de arte 12 (1934-1935): 205, 110.
- Philipps, Gerry. "Spanish Painting at Brooklyn." Magazine of Art 28 (1935): 675, repro.
- Clifford, Henry. "Great Spanish Painters: A Timely Show." Art News 35 (17 April, 1937): 9, repro. 8.
- Mayer, August L. "Late XVth Century Castilian Painting." Apollo 29 (1939): 281.
- Frothingham, Alice W. Hispanic Glass. New York, 1941: 29, fig. 20.
- Brans, J. V. L. Isabel la católica y el arte hispanoflamenco. Madrid, 1952: 130-132.
- Gudiol y Ricart, José. Pintura gótica. Ars Hispaniae 9. Madrid, 1955: 355, fig. 311.
- King, Marian. Portrait of Jesus: Paintings and Engravings from the National Gallery. Philadelphia, 1956: 28, repro. 29.
- Gaya Nuño, Juan Anotonio. La pintura española fuera de España; historia y catàlogo. Madrid, 1958: 274, no. 2246.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 263, repro.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 86.
- Gudiol y Ricart, José. "El Pintor Diego de la Cruz." Goya 70 (1966): 214-215.
- Cuttler, Charles D. Northern Painting from Pucelle to Brueghel. New York, 1968: 254, fig. 317.
- European Paintings and Sculpture: Illustrations (Companion to the Summary Catalogue, 1965). Washington, 1968: 75, repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 224, repro.
- Eisler, Colin. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: European Schools Excluding Italian. Oxford, 1977: 177-178, 181-182, fig. 183.
- Anderson, Ruth Mathilda. Hispanic Costume: 1480-1530. New York, 1979: 35, 49, 83, 109, 169, 189, figs. 26, 84, 205, 269, color pl. 11.
- O'Meara, Carra Fergusson. "In the Hearth of the Virginal Womb: The Iconography of the Holocaust in Late Medieval Art." The Art Bulletin 63, no. 1 (March 1981): 86, n. 58.
- Abrams, Richard I. and Warner A. Hutchinson. An Illustrated Life of Jesus, From the National Gallery of Art Collection. Nashville, 1982
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 142, no. 144, color repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 255, repro.
- Brown, Jonathan, and Richard G. Mann. Spanish Paintings of the Fifteenth through Nineteenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1990: 93-101, color repro. 95.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 76, repro.
- Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 70-71, no. 51, color repro.
The original support is composed of two vertically oriented planks of pine. The lower 16 centimeters is constructed of four pieces of vertically oriented fir wood of unequal width, which have been attached to the bottom of the original support. Narrow strips of wood have been added to the edges of the composite panel, and a modern cradle has been attached to it. The damage to the paint surface across the lower edge of the original panels suggests that the four blocks added at the bottom may have replaced a destroyed part of the original composition. The original support is covered by a thick, white ground probably composed of two layers. X-radiographs show fibrous inclusions (grass?) in the ground. The fibrous inclusions seem to be confined to the lower layer; it is supposed that there is a second, thinner ground layer without fibers above. The composition was extensively underdrawn on the original support, in a black liquid, probably applied with a brush. The major figures and such details of the setting as the bed were fully cross-hatched in the underdrawing, while the background figures were only indicated with sketchy contours. Several minor changes can be noted between the drawn and painted stages, including the shape and position of the Virgin's nose, the features of the man lifting his cap, and the bride's right sleeve. In the underdrawing, two diagonal lines extend from the goblet to the groom's right hand. The straight borders of the brocade at the right were incised. Oil paint was applied in a series of carefully controlled layers, with glazes and finely applied details modifying the underlayers. The support is basically solid, although the addition of the blocks at the bottom has caused some cracks to form in the original planks. There are minor losses of paint along the left edge and elsewhere. The eyes of the dog were damaged in 1979.
 The woods of the original support and the added pieces were analyzed by Michael Palmer, NGA scientific department.