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Vine and the Wine in Antique Frescoes



1a. La The first representation of the winemaking process comes from the Ancient Egyptians in the third millennium BC. The Egyptian frescoes also bear witness to the importance of the vine during this period. Wine and the vine have their place in the tomb of Ouserhat, Royal Scribe under Amenhotep II, and in that of Nebamun, who served under Thutmose IV (Amenhotep II’s son). The subject is not as profane as we might imagine, because the wine (red) is mixed with the blood of the god Osiris, killed and cut into pieces by his brother Seth. Wine also encourages drunkenness and therefore love and sexuality.

The grapes are pressed in a large vat, where men tread the fruit for a long time. On each side small floral columns are represented, of which the open summits support beams. Hanging from these supports, leafy branches (probably actually cords) fall to the level of the men who hold onto them. The viewer must look to the middle of the fresco to see what happens next. Two men carry the full jars, which are then stacked in three rows. A kneeling scribe records everything, including the number of baskets brought to the winepress. In Egypt, the grape harvests took place at the very start of the summer, just before the rainy season in mid-July. The reappearance of the Sothis star (around the 18th July) was, for Egyptians, the sign of the near flooding of the Nile.

1c. Between 1907 and 1938, under the leadership of British Egyptologist Norman de Garis Davies, the Graphic Section of The Met’s Egyptian Expedition undertook a documentation project with the goal of recording ancient monuments as accurately as possible.

This facsimile painting copies the decoration painted on the left hand wall as one enters the tomb chapel of Nakht (Theban tomb no. 52), a scribe and astronomer who probably lived during the reign of Thutmose IV.


2.  This detail of a banquet scene shows two female guests and a girl serving a liquid from a small flask. She is shown in an unusual pose with her back turned toward the viewer. The consumption of alcoholic beverages was a key element in many celebrations.

In addition to social drinking, the participants of some festivals, such as the Beautiful Festival of the Valley, drank in excess to achieve an altered state of inebriation, disorientation, and sleepiness that was thought to enable communication with a deity or the dead. For this purpose, drugs might have also been served. Small flasks, such as the ones held by the servant on the left, might have held herbal concentrates that were added to wine to increase its effect. The accompanying inscription reads, "Make a happy day!" (Source: The Met).


3. Chez les égyptiens de l'Antiquité, les cérémonies et croyances liées à la mort représentaient une part importante de leur vie. Les préoccupations liées à la mort au cours de l'Égypte antique étaient religieuses. Le mythe de la mort représentait un aspect très important de la religion des égyptiens, mais constituait surtout une étape importante de la vie du pharaon, frère des dieux, qui devait après son décès vivre auprès de ceux-ci un repos éternel.

Les Égyptiens considéraient qu'après le décès l'âme du défunt pouvait renaître et accéder au « royaume des morts » et au repos éternel. Ils ont pour objectif de nourrir leur ka, son souvenir sur terre, ce qui doit être entretenu et nourri dans le monde des vivants, notamment par les membres de la famille ; et d'aliment leur ba, leur capacité à quitter le monde de l'au-delà, celui des dieux, pour rejoindre celui des vivants. Le prêtre incite le féfunt à se nourrir des offrandes présentées.

4. Guests at banquets are usually depicted with fine clothing and elaborate jewelry, and in a state of eternal youth. The facsimile here shows the right part of one large banquet scene.

The largest figure depicts the deceased, the sculptor Nebamun, with his immediate family members, while other attendees are featured in smaller sizes to the left. Standing before him is a female figure—Henutnefret, his wife or sister—who hands him a bowl of wine with the words "Drink and make a happy day!" Attendees often consumed an excessive amount of alcohol during these celebrations.


5. The Etruscans seem to have been great wine consumers and lovers of luxury. In the semi-mountainous region of Etruria, vines grew in abundance on the hillsides and were strongly cultivated. The numerous amphorae found prove that the wine produced by the Etruscans was exported throughout the Mediterranean basin. From the 8th century BC, Etruscan banquets, the customs of which were borrowed from the Greeks, were organised by the princes. The ceremony was much ritualised. To the music of flutes or lyres, male and female guests, lying on couches, tasted wine served by slaves.

These events rivalled each other in luxury. The wine vessels were made of precious metals and skilfully crafted. Conserved in pansus or stamnoi vases, the wine was mixed with water in a large pan (patera), terracotta vase or cauldron (lébès), then placed before the guests. One could then draw the wine with ladles (simpulae) to transfer it into carafes (œnochoes), before finally pouring it into individual cups. Sometimes, impurities were removed from the wine prior to consumption by means of a filter. (Source: Inrap)


6. Some distance from Pompeii, the Villa of Mysteries is an ancient doctor’s house. In the masters’ quarters, a room holds the newly-restored fresco to which the villa owes its fame: rolled out on a large frieze are twenty nine life-size characters, set against on a Pompeian-red background. This fresco might represent the initiation of a young bride to Dionysian mysteries; here the ritual is read by a child who might be Dionysus himself. The cult of Dionysus, of which the mistress of the house would have been a priestess, was very popular in Southern Italy at the time. The scene presented in the foreground is strange: a woman dressed in an old-fashioned peplos (a woman’s wool tunic, in the Dorian style of Ancient Greece) watches a young boy, himself naked but for a pair of high boots, who reads a volumen (a scroll of papyrus sheets).

Another woman, wearing clothes contemporary to the frieze, sits behind the child. She holds a volumen in her left hand and rests her right hand on the boy’s right shoulder. Divine teacher, she is teaching him his art. The peplophoros (wearer of the peplos) represents Dionysus’s nurse, who always appears in such scenes, particularly in scenes showing the toilet and dressing of the hero. Even if Dionysus has never been represented as having learnt to read, the book gives an indication of the knowledge and higher circles of the Muses. Our priestess shows us her pedagogical activity as a profane mother-figure within the myth of Dionysus, this time identifying herself as the mother of the hero, Semele. 


7. This fresco from the 1st century BC comes from the lateral wall of a domestic shrine situated in the service atrium of the Centurion’s House in Pompeii, excavated between 1879 and 1881; the shrine’s remaining frescoes have been conserved in situ. In the upper part of this fresco, we can see a votive garland decorated with ribbons, on which sits a bird, motif often featured in funeral paintings and domestic shrines; on the left appears Dionysus-Bacchus, whose body is decorated unusually with a gigantic bunch of grapes. He is nevertheless still easy to identify by his features: the long loose hair falling to his shoulders and the ivy crown. In one hand he holds the sceptre of Dionysus: a stick decorated with vine leaves or grapes, topped with a pine cone decorated with a ribbon; with the other hand, he sprinkles his panther with wine from a cantharus, a two-handled drinking vessel.

A mountain covered with cultivated vines is represented in the background. In the bottom part of the fresco, a long snake – recurrent image in Pompeian shrines – uncoils itself in the direction of a cylindrical altar; the snake represents the genius loci, the good spirit of the home. The serpent was actually a positive symbol, linked to the underworld beneath the ground and therefore associated with fertility, among other things. Dionysus was considered the protector of Vesuvius. It is highly likely that the Pompeiians did not understand the volcanic nature of Vesuvius and therefore saw it as a protector of the town and its prosperity. The vines of this area produced Vesuvinum (source: Pliny), a famous wine which, with Pompeianum, contributed to the richness of the town.

* Household shrines of any kind were known generically as lararia (s. lararium) because they typically contained a Lares figure or two. Lares were divine witnesses at important family occasions, such as marriages, births, and adoptions, and their shrines provided a religious hub for social and family life.

Find out more: Gallery Nectar of The Gods >>


8 et 9. Le rhyton est un vase à boire antique en forme de corne ou de cornet façonné en métal ou en terre cuite, parfois en verre, terre cuite ou en métal, parfois en verre. Il représente, le plus souvent une tête d'animal, parfois humaine. S'il était utilisé pour boire, il l'était aussi pour certaines cérémonies et rituels religieux, lors de libations. La fresque ci-jointe représente deux Lares versant du vin dans un seau (situla) avec un rhyton. Ils encadrent une scène sacrificielle. Le chef de famille fait des offrandes, un musicien joue, tandis que deux plus petits personnages apportent des objets et un cochon pour le sacrifice. Peu à peu, le rhyton ne servira plus de déversoir, mais sera plutôt utilisé comme récipient, comme dans ce banquet.

Pour en voir plus : Le Vin des Arts, objets d'art >>


Villa Getty, Los Angeles, painting fragments likely decorated the same room, 1-79 A.D.: Old Silenos with Kantharos and Thyrsos /  Woman (Maenad?) Holding a Dish /  Dionysos and Ariadne ( lifts a ceremonial drinking horn called a rhyton, while Bacchus carries a kantharos, a wine cup)

PS 30.4.118_EGDP022609 Winemaking, Tomb of Ipuy.jpg
PT 30.4.124_EGDP017841.jpg

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, facsimiles : Wine Making, Tom of Ipuy, ca. 1279-1213 BC. /  Deceased censing and libating to the deified Mentuhotep and Ahmose-Nefertari, with the Hathor cow emerging from the mountain; Tomb of Ameneminet. Mentuhotep II and Ahmose-Nefertari are shown posthumously, not as living beings but as images. 

PS Wine and Papyrus Treasures of Amun Tom of Rekhmire Dynasty 18 v BC 1479 1425 Thebes (2)

Wine and Papyrus for the Treasuries of Amun, Tomb of Rekhmire, ca. 1479-1420 B.C., Thebes - The Metropoltan Museum of Art, New York


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