Composition

Detail from Daniel Maclise, 'The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife', 1854
Detail from Daniel Maclise, 'The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife', 1854

It is clear from a note which Maclise jotted down on an envelope, that he wanted to portray this event in a highly dramatic manner:

The marriage is celebrated in a field of battle – amid scenes of desolation. The triumphant banners of the Conquerors are displayed [.] Submission of the Irish Chieftains [.] Mourning over the fallen [.] Burial of the dead. The historic circumstances of a marriage celebrated in a battlefield afforded an opportunity of exhibiting the contrasts of cheerfulness and gloom characterised by Irish temperament and Irish music. (Victoria and Albert Museum, Forster Bequest, MS 48.E.19, f.126.)

This dynamic composition places the main event, the marriage ceremony, at centre stage with various groupings of figures, such as the bridesmaids, the fallen Irish, the Anglo-Norman soldiers, arranged in an oval shape around the main characters.

Detail from Daniel Maclise, 'The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife', 1854
Jacques-Louis David, 'The Funeral of Patroclus', 1778

This swirling, action-packed arrangement is one used by Maclise in a number of his paintings; he may have been influenced by the composition of Jacques-Louis David’s The Funeral of Patroclus (1778) which has a similar dramatic arrangement of figures around a central focus.

Maclise’s theatrical use of chiaroscuro (light and shade) in this painting may also have been influenced by David’s work. Aoife, her bridesmaids, and the fallen Irish are depicted bathed in a pure white light, while the Anglo-Normans and Aoife’s father are enveloped by dark shadow. This lighting can be interpreted as a narrative device, encouraging the viewer to sympathise with Aoife and the defeated warriors.