Daily life: Wine as foodstuff, remedy and comfort

The Seven Works of Mercy: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty. Domenico Ghirlandaio - Oratorio dei Buonimi di San Martino, Florence, Italy

 

SEVEN WORKS OF MERCY: FEED THE HUNGRY, GIVE DRINK TO THE THIRSTY

Domenico Ghirlandaio (School of)

1478-1481

Oratorio dei Buonimi di San Martino, Florence, Italy

 

 

 

 

This fresco illustrates Christian charity: giving bread to those who are hungry and wine to those who are thirsty. It seems that the wine is drawn from the fermentation tank for immediate distribution. The same scene could have been captured at the Hospices de Beaune, which Chancellor Nicolas Rolin and his wife Guigone de Salins had just founded. There was the same distribution to the "poor" every day. It was already recognizing that wine was a staple product. It was used to fight the cold in winter and to cool off in summer. But it was much more than a simple drink: restoring strength and energy, wine was considered a real food with a high calorific value and a carrier of many mineral salts. Finally, water in the Middle Ages was hardly drinkable, it was necessary to cut it with wine (and not the reverse as in our childhood!).

The theme illustrating the Christian charity at the Oratorio dei Buonimi di San Martino is taken up by other artists. Six primary Christian acts are listed by Matthew in the Parable of the Day of Judgement: “feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit those in prison” (additional instructions to “bury the dead” would appear in the 12th century). In Catholic theology, acts of mercy or donations to charity can act as a penance. After Luther, many Protestant thinkers criticized the notion of ‘buying salvation’ through gifts to the Church: they believed that everything had already been decided, and that no act of charity would save those who were not destined for salvation.

Suggestion : Johann Sebastian Bach, Cantate BWV 39 Brich dem Hungrigen dein Brot / Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry? (1726)

REFRESHING THE THIRSTY,Panel of a polyptych with THE SEVEN WORKS OF CHARITY, Master of Alkmaar, 1504 - Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

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THE MARTYRDOM OF SAINT LAWRENCE; GIVING DRINK TO THE THIRSTY Master of the Acts of Mercy (Austrian, Salzburg), ca. 1465 - The Met, New York

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SEVEN ACTS OF MERCY Pieter Bruegel the Younger ca. 1601/25 - National Museum of Ancient Art, Lisbon, Portugal

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THE SEVEN WORKS OF MERCY Caravaggio, 1607 - Pio Monte della Misericordia Church, Naples, Italy / 4

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THE SEVEN CORPORAL WORKS OF MERCY David Teniers the Younger, ca. 1622/23 - Dulwich Gallery, London

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REFRESHING THE THIRSTY Michael Sweerts, ca. 1646/49 - Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands / 6

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4. This painting was made for, and is still housed in, the church of Pio Monte della Misericordia in Naples. Originally, it was meant to be seven separate panels around the church; however, Caravaggio combined all seven works of mercy in one composition which became the church's altarpiece. Samson (second from the left) drinks water from the jawbone of an ass. American art historian John Spike notes that the choice of Samson as an emblem of Giving Drink to the Thirsty is so peculiar as to demand some explanation. The fearsome scourge of the Philistines was a deeply flawed man who accomplished his heroic tasks through the grace of God. When Samson was in danger of dying of thirst, God gave him water to drink. It is difficult to square this miracle with an allegory of the Seven Acts of Mercy since it was not in fact the work of human charity.

 

The titular six other works/acts of mercy are represented in the painting as follows: Bury the dead, in the background, two men carry a dead man (of whom only the feet are visible); Visit the imprisoned, and Feed the hungry, on the right, a woman visits an imprisoned deputy and gives him milk from her breast; Shelter the homeless, a pilgrim (third from left, as identified by the shell in his hat) asks an innkeeper (at far left) for shelter; Clothe the naked, St. Martin of Tours, fourth from the left, has torn his robe in half and given it to the naked beggar in the foreground, recalling the saint's popular legend; and Visit the sick, St. Martin greets and comforts the beggar who is a cripple.

 

6. Visible in the background of this scene is the church of Santissima Trinità dei Monti in Rome, an allusion to the necessity - then as now - of helping the needy and offering refreshment to the thirsty.

FOODSTUFF

THE BEAN EATER Annibale Carracci, 1584/85 - Galleria Colonna, Rome / 1

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PEASANT FAMILY IN AN INTERIOR (FAMILLE DE PAYSANS DANS UN INTÉRIEUR) Frères Le Nain, ca. 1640 - Musée du Louvre, Paris / 2

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LUNCHEON Diego Velázquez ca. 1617 - The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia

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AN OLD WOMAN COOKING EGGS Diego Velázquez, 1618 - National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, UK / 4

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KITCHEN SCENE Meester van de Amsterdamse Bodegón, 1610/25 Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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A WOMAN DRAWING WINE FROM A BARREL Gabriel Metsu, mid-17th century - The Leiden Collection, New York

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THE SOUP KITCHEN Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller 1859 - Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria / 7

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THE MEAL OF THE POOR (LE REPAS DES PAUVRES) Alphonse Legros, 1877 - National Gallery, London / 8

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THE MEAL (DE MAALTIJD) Henri De Braekeleer, 1885 - KMSKA, Antwerpen, Belgium

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THE OYSTER EATER (LA MANGEUSE D'HUÎTRES) James Ensor, 1882 - Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp, Belgium / 10

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THE LUNCHEON Claude Monet, 1873 - Musée d'Orsay, Paris

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INTERIOR OF THE RESTAURANT CARREL IN ARLES (INTÉRIEUR DU RESTAURANT CARREL A ARLES) Van Gogh, 1888 - Private collection / 9

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SPANISH FARMERS Ignacio Zuloaga, 1905 - Alte Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen, Berlin, Germany

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THE MEAL (LE REPAS) Pierre Bonnard, ca. 1927 - Museum of Modern Art, New York

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THE SOLITARY MEAL Marius Borgeaud, 1921 - Private collection

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THE LUNCHEON Fernand Leger, 1921 - Fernand Leger National Museum, Biot, France

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TABLES FOR LADIES Edward Hopper, 1930 - The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York / 17

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THE SITTING DRINKER (LE BUVEUR ASSIS) Bernard Buffet, 1948 - Musée d'art moderne de la ville de Paris

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1. Annibal Carrache was one of the first great masters to show an interest in genre scenes. In The Bean Eater, it is clear that wine had become a part of daily peasant life by the end of the 16th century. The scene is probably set in a cabaret.

2. In this work by the Le Nain brothers, we enter the peasants’ home and catch one of the householders with a glass of red wine (Peasant Family in an Interior). These country workers are “decently dressed and shod”. They are not badly-off, and drink wine every day.

4. From the 17th century to the first half of the 20th century, wine became a key element in family meals. It plays a role in this meal being prepared by this Old Woman Cooking Eggs.

7. There was a severe food shortage in 1816 and 1817, and this brought poverty and hence social problems that the authorities could no longer cope with. The birth rate of illegitimate children rose drastically because most of the people were not by law permitted to marry owing to their financial circumstances. The number of orphans and semi-orphans with no parents to care for them also rose drastically. Against that background the charm with which Waldmüller has invested his children here must be seen as glossing over reality. Only the realists of the following generation dared to represent conditions in their truly fearful state.

8. Alphonse Legros’s The Meal of the Poor gives us a complete change of scene. The artist lived for a time in London, where wine was considered a refreshing tonic. The price of wine had fallen drastically, and it was served with the most modest meals.

10. This Oyster Eater is one of the snapshots from the life of the small-town bourgeoisie painted by James Ensor. It was his intention to enter it in the 1882 edition of the three-yearly art exhibition in Antwerp, but the organizers rejected it. They considered this work was too much unconventional and provocative. In its day, this seemingly innocent scene caused quite a stir. To many, the image of a single woman enjoying the good things in life - fine wine and oysters - was inappropriate, all the more so as oysters were seen as an aphrodisiac (source: KMSKA, Antwerp).

 

12. Van Gogh depicts the ‘workers’ restaurant’ of the Hôtel Carrel, where he had lodged before moving to the famous ‘yellow house’. There was a single set menu, wine included.

17. Dans le contexte de la crise de 1929, la toile de Hopper témoigne de l’évolution des mœurs : non seulement les femmes travaillent, à l’instar de la caissière et de la serveuse, mais elles sont aussi, dorénavant, une clientèle bienvenue. Les restaurants avec l’indication « Tables pour dames » accueillent des clients féminins, souvent des femmes actives qui viennent d’acquérir leur indépendance et leur mobilité. Elles sont assurées de pouvoir dîner seules sans se trouver automatiquement suspectées d’être des prostituées à l’affût. « À partir d’esquisses et de notes détaillées sur le cadre, Hopper a dépeint avec précision la présentation soignée des mets proposés, ‘le bois teint d’un vernis cerise, le carrelage du sol, la serveuse bien mise et les couleurs vulgaires des restaurants bon marché’. Malgré ces couleurs chaudes, voire criardes, et malgré le puissant éclairage, la scène n’est pas particulièrement festive » (source : The Metropolitan Museum of Art). 

REMEDY

HOLY WINE (SAINT VINAGE) FOR ERGOTISM (St Anthony’s Fire) Fresco ca. 1385 - St Anthony the Great's Chapel, Clans, Alpes Maritimes, France

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BIRTH OF St JOHN THE BAPTIST, Domenico Ghirlandaio 1486-1490 - Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Italy / 2

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THE NEWBORN BABY Matthijs Naiveu, 1675 - The Metropoltan Museum of Art, New York

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THE VISIT TO THE NURSERY Gabriël Metsu, 1661 - The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

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BIRTH OF HENRY IV Joseph Devéria, Between 1827 and 1833 - Fine Arts Museum, Pau, France / 5

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SELF-PORTRAIT WITH Dr. ARRIETA, Francisco de Goya 1820 - Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MN, United States / 6

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LOUIS PASTEUR Albert Edelfelt, 1885 - Musée d'Orsay, Paris / 7

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THE PATIENT Félix Valloton, 1892 - Private collection / 8

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MY DOCTOR, WINE? (MON DOCTEUR LE VIN) R. Dufy, 1936 - Mon Docteur le vin, Gaston Derys, Yale Univ. Press / 9

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Wine has always been considered good for the health. Hippocrates, Greek father of modern medicine, considered that “wine is an appropriate article for mankind, both for the healthy body and for the ailing man.” In the 13th century, Arnaud de Villeneuve was happy to observe that “wine is marvelous for melancholics, choleric and cardiac cases, and for those with liver, bladder, circulation and especially artery problems. It relieves brutal rises in temperature.”

2. In his Birth of Saint John the Baptist, fashionably painted in a contemporary setting, Domenico Ghirlandaio shows that young mothers were given wine after childbirth.  The Renaissance art historian and painter Giorgio Vasari describes the work in his famous Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects, considered the first modern European art history book: “While Saint Elizabeth is in bed being visited by neighbours, the wet-nurse feeding the child, a woman gaily asks to hold him, to show to the others the fruit of Elizabeth’s old age. We can see a pretty country girl bringing in fruit and wine, according to Florentine custom.” The wine was supposed to replace lost blood and cleanse organs damaged by childbirth. This practice lasted until the 19th century. In Switzerland, in the Valais region, the ‘cure’ continued until the ‘relevailles’ ceremony, a Catholic blessing given to new mothers by a priest. A kind of purification act, it was derived from a Jewish custom whereby mothers would come to the temple forty days after giving birth to a son (eighty days for a daughter).

5. Henri d’Albret wanted his daughter to produce a male heir. In line with tradition, The Birth of Henri IV shows the future French king being placed into his grandfather’s arms and presented to the Court. One of the courtesans is shown holding a tray with a small bottle of Jurançon wine and a clove of garlic. He takes the baby into his chamber, rubbing the garlic against the newborn’s lips and making him breathe in the wine. The ‘Béarnaise baptism’ was a widespread tradition ; the wine was thought to prevent illness and the garlic was believed to keep away evil spirits. This type of blessing at royal births lasted for centuries.

 

6. At the start of the 19th century, wine was considered “a tonic, a very powerful cordial” (Littré, 1801). In his Self-Portrait with Doctor Arrieta, a gravely ill Goya takes a remedy from his friend. It appears to be a glass of wine, probably sherry.

7. By 1863, the French wine trade was suffering badly from an outbreak of disease in the crop. The English complained to Napoleon III, who tasked Louis Pasteur with investigating the problem. A specialist in the processes of fermentation and putrefaction, Pasteur moved his laboratory to Arbois, in the wine-producing Jura region. He shared his conclusions with the Académie des Sciences in 1865, affirming that “wine is the most healthful and most hygienic of beverages.” Pasteur’s report was published by the Imperial Press in 1866, under the title of Studies on Wine. Until recently, wine was often prescribed by medical professionals.

 

8. It is for this reason that we can see a litre of white wine alongside a carafe of water and a phial of medicine on the nightstand of Félix Valloton’s The Patient. She is Valloton’s mistress, who suffered from severe migraines.

9. Gaston Derys’ book My Doctor, Wine?* extols the many joys and benefits of wine through comments of French doctors*. Many watercolours by Raoul Dufy are used to illustrate this defence of wine as remedy. Here we are in the hospital. A nursing sister of yesteryear enters the flower-filled room carrying a tray, on which is placed a bottle of champagne. Too good to be true? The painting features in a chapter describing the benefits of wine in convalescence. A professor said: "Many patients, convalescents, and sufferers from exhaustion who stuff themselves with pills, powders, and tablets would find an old Bordeaux to be a faster remedy to recuperate their strength." In another chapter, several doctors were interviewed about obesity. One of them wrote that "wine is a treatment for obesity...  Water tends to thicken the flesh. Indeed, fat is formed and intervenes in water drinkers, to neutralize the poisons deriving from food that are not destroyed by internal secretions... The wine augments the body's defences, allowing a stronger resistance to autointoxication, depression, and obesity." !**

* Published in English by Yale University Press, 2003 (French text originally published in 1936, during the viticulture crisis). Gaston Derys is a pseudonym for Gaston Colomb, who, under many aliases, was a prolific writer and well-known French gastronome.

** Today, the discussion has become more precise and scientific. But is it any less controversial? A former hospital practitioner has not only declared red wine an effective protection against cardiovascular disease – adding that abstinence is actually harmful – but also that it helps to prevent arteriosclerosis, being a powerful antioxidant and vasodilator. Red wine is said to be especially good for the circulation: lab tests have shown the polyphenol extracts of red wine may work in cases where prescription anticoagulants have little effect. It is also thought, among other things, to combat hypertension and to reduce damage to the myocardium and aorta by extending the life of the heart and arteries’ muscle cells. Regular, moderate red wine consumption is linked to a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Last but not least, as red wine allows for longer cell life, it even possesses ‘anti-cancer properties’! Too good to be true? Judge for yourself: just remember that, as these very doctors might say, alcohol is to be enjoyed in moderation…

REFRESHMENT AND COMFORT

TRAVELER AT REST Frans van Mieris the Elder, ca. 1657 - Leiden collection, New York

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WINE TASTING Eduard Ritter, 1842 - Private collection

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FLOOR SCRAPERS (RABOTEURS DE PARQUET) Gustave Caillebotte, 1875 - Musée d'Orsay, Paris / 3

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WOMEN IRONING (REPASSEUSES) Edgar Degas , ca. 1884/86 - Musée d'Orsay, Paris / 4

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THESE LADIES IN THE REFECTORY (CES DAMES AU RÉFECTOIRE) H. de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1893/94 - Szépmuvészeti Muz., Budapest, Hungary / 5

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RECLINING MAN Nina Hamnett, ca. 1918 - Private collection / 6

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3-4. Although the theme of working life in painting was well-established in Holland as far back as the 17th century, this was not the case in France, where the topic was considered unworthy. It was not until the 18th century that painters began to portray unromanticized laboring scenes. It was also during this period that cheap red wines began to make their way into the market. They were consumed by laborers at work, as a refreshment, a tonic, and an encouragement. Both male and female workers drank wine in this way, be they Gustave Caillebotte’s Floor Scrapers or Edgar Degas’ Women Ironing. Shown in the middle of the working day, the two exhausted laundry workers reflect the unromantic but tender attitude of the artist towards his working-class subjects. The image is incisive, but unpitying. Gestures emerge with a rare expressive force implying immediacy – the woman on the left yawns and stretches, holding in her hand a bottle of wine, while her colleague hunches doggedly over her work. 

 

5. Toulouse-Lautrec conjured up similar themes in his portrayals of women. A regular of the brothels of Montmartre, Toulouse-Lautrec had lodgings at La Fleur Blanche. This permitted him to capture similar stress and exhaustion in the women of These Ladies in the Refectory, set in the prostitutes’ dining room. A bottle, given by the madam of the house, was intended to restore the girls’ enthusiasm for their work!

6. A little treat after a long working day.

‘Comforting’ wine was also given to the poilus, French soldiers of the First World War. Wine imagery from this period is almost non-existent, and usually of very poor quality – even those images made to a commercial aim (by alcohol manufacturers), are very much below par. Nevertheless, there still exist some good-quality posters, photographs, drawings and engravings from this time.

 

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WHAT IS GOING ON?

The Doctor's Visit, Jan Steen, ca. 1665/68 - Maritshuis, The Hague, The Netherlands

Certaines oeuvres peuvent donner lieu de la part des historiens de l'art à des interprétations différentes, et c'est bien compréhensible. Mais pour cette Visite d'un médecin de Jan Steen. 1665/68), deux avis s'opposent sur le site même du Mauritshuis où est conservée l'oeuvre (La Haye, Pays-Bas). Dans un premier temps, il nous est dit que le médecin se fait servir un verre de vin par la servante ; que la jeune fille souffre probablement d’un « utérus errant », une maladie qui touchait principalement les jeunes vierges et qui était prise très au sérieux par les médecins de l'époque ; et que l'attitude des chiens dans l’escalier [NDLR. qui se reniflent l'un l'autre] nous indique le remède : la jeune fille doit trouver un mari dès que possible.

Dans le texte très détaillé qui suit, extrait d'un catalogue, et qui se réfère aux nombreuses oeuvres de Steen et d'autres peintres traitant du même sujet, il est précisé que la malade a la poitrine à moitié dénudée, qu'elle se tourne vers le « docteur », qui est assis à ses côtés et qui tient ses gants dans la main comme s'il venait tout juste d'arriver. Il n'y a pas de doute à avoir sur le diagnostic, elle soufre de "s'alanguir d'amour".

Comme toujours dans l’œuvre de Jan Steen, le médecin est vêtu d’un costume à l’ancienne, indiquant qu’il n’est pas un vrai médecin, mais un ridicule charlatan. De toute façon, que pourrait-il faire quand, comme le dit un proverbe néerlandais, « la médecine n’aidera pas là où l’amour est à blâmer ! » Son attention se porte vers la jeune femme qui lui tend un verre de vin. Elle porte une robe très élégante sous son tablier, faisant semblant d’être une servante. Elle tend un verre de vin à administrer, tel une médecine, à la malade [NDLR. pour calmer la douleur ou agir comme un tranquillisant ?], mais il semble plus probable que ce soit du vin pour le médecin lui-même [pour lui offrir un simple rafraîchissement ou pour le séduire ?]. 

Dans Le Sorcier ou Le Magicien (Auto-portrait avec quatre bras, 1952, collection particulière), Magritte transforme une scène familière et banale, un repas, en une peinture étrange, voire intrigante. S’agit-il, à première vue, d’un homme pressé (comme celui de Paul Morand, publié 10 ans plutôt) qui mène son déjeuner à toute allure ou plus prosaïquement d’un homme affamé et assoiffé ?

En démultipliant les possibilités du corps, Magritte, surréaliste, "nous montre [comme dans toutes ses oeuvres, NDLR] que la peinture peut être un écart situé entre la réalité visible et la représentation imaginaire" (Magritte, Marcel Paquet, Taschen, Cologne). Ce Sorcier espiègle défie bien des lois, créant un univers fait d'humour visuel, de paradoxe et de surprise. Le résultat est direct, déconcertant, drôle et troublant. Il nous pousse, au-delà du visible, vers "ce qui est caché par ce que l'on voit".  Magritte dépasse les apparences et donne une part de mystère au monde réel : "Je veille, dans la mesure du possible, à ne faire que des peintures qui suscitent le mystère avec la précision et l’enchantement nécessaire à la vie des idées".

IMAGINATION MEETS REALITY

The Magician (Self-portrait with four arms), René Magritte, 1952 - Private collection

FOODSTUFF, REMEDY, AND COMFORT IN MEDIEVAL ILLUMINATIONS

WHITE WINE IS A FOODSTUFF
WHITE WINE IS A FOODSTUFF

WHITE WINE IS A FOODSTUFF Tacuinum Sanitatis, 14th century

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AUGUST, HARVEST, AND SNACK FOOD
AUGUST, HARVEST, AND SNACK FOOD

Heures de Claude Gouffier, ca. 1545 - National Renaissance Museum, Ecouen, France

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SNACK WITH GLASS OF WINE AND FRUITS
SNACK WITH GLASS OF WINE AND FRUITS

SNACK WITH GLASS OF WINE AND FRUITS Heures de Charles d'Angoulême, ca. 1490 - BnF, Paris

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THE BIRTH OF St JOHN THE BAPTIST
THE BIRTH OF St JOHN THE BAPTIST

THE BIRTH OF St JOHN THE BAPTIST Les Très Belles Heures de Notre Dame de Jean de Berry, ca. 1420

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A pictorial technique similar to that of frescoes or miniatures, illuminations were very popular during the Middle Ages. Done by hand, illuminations decorated or illustrated texts, usually on handwritten manuscripts. Until the 12th century, manuscripts were copied out in religious settings, such as abbeys, where they were used to support prayer and meditation. From the 13th century, private artisans began to produce literature for the secular market. This was due to the greater literacy that had resulted from the growing university and administrative sectors.

 

Find out more: Wine in Illuminations, From Drinking to Savoir-boire  >>

WINE AND THE ARTS: GRAPHICS, TAPESTRY, AND PHOTOGRAPHY

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The ‘Muses’ companion’, wine is present across the artistic spectrum, be it in literature, music, decorative or fine arts. Wine is an essential witness to our social and cultural history. Although the Virtual Wine Museum is mainly concerned with painting at present, some examples drawn from other artistic formats permit us to illustrate the universal role of wine, to ‘bear witness’ to it. A few examples of non-painted works on the same theme as this gallery: Goya’s A Man Drinking from a Wineskin (ink drawing); a section from the Bayeux Tapestry showing William the Conqueror’s invasion of England; La Table Servie, Niepce’s second photograph; and the photo-portrait of a Champagne Wine-Grower in Marne by Cartier-Bresson.

 

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A MAN DRINKING FROM A WINESKIN
A MAN DRINKING FROM A WINESKIN

A MAN DRINKING FROM A WINESKIN Francisco de Goya, ca. 1812-1820 - The Met, New York

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WINE AND WEAPONS
WINE AND WEAPONS

WINE AND WEAPONS Bayeux Tapestry, pannel 37 - Bayeux, France

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LA TABLE SERVIE (STILL LIFE)
LA TABLE SERVIE (STILL LIFE)

LA TABLE SERVIE (STILL LIFE) Nicolas Niepce, 1823-1825 or 1832? Physautotype - Missing photography

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CHAMPAGNE WINEGROWER IN MARNE
CHAMPAGNE WINEGROWER IN MARNE

CHAMPAGNE WINEGROWER IN MARNE Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1960 - Private collection

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GALLERIES AN EVERYDAY COMPANION

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