Bruegel executed an underdrawing with a sense of immediacy directly on the panel, giving researchers an unprecedented sense of his working methods, visual thinking, and compositional planning. Although we cannot assume that Bruegel’s lost compositional sketches took the same form as this underdrawing, it is nevertheless the closest approximation of his external preparatory drawings in existence. Thus, it was imperative to understand it without interference of the subsequent paint layers.


Using a visible-light image and an infrared reflectogram (IRR) of the painting, I produced a digital tracing by faithfully following Bruegel's underdrawing. However, it should not be regarded as an absolutely accurate rendition. Human error in the interpretation of some individual lines is to be expected. In addition, some areas of the underdrawing were likely blocked by infrared-absorbing pigments that read as black—for example, in many of the figures’ shoes and hose. Drawing media almost certainly exist beneath these passages, but they are not perceptible in IRR and therefore not represented in the tracing.


Although the tracing began as an exercise to understand the development of The Wedding Dance, we quickly realized that the resulting digital simulation of the underdrawing could illuminate Bruegel’s mark making, use of light, and sense of compositional unity in general.

All images © 2019, Detroit Institute of Arts, Conservation Department, all rights reserved

The Underdrawing of The Wedding Dance

Published in Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 93, no. 1 (2019), plate 5, 44-55

© 2020 by Becca Goodman