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Wine is part of politics and public life

"Concert Féminin au Palais Philarmonique", Francesco Guardi, 1782 - Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Allemagne | Vin et politique | Vie sociale | De boire en savoir-boire | Vin et Peinture | Le Musée Virtuel du Vin

ancesco Guardi (1712-1793)


Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Germany




Drinking toasts has always been a part of political life. Ulysses, King of Ithaca, would offer wine to the princes who hosted him on his voyages; Guests at Middle-Age banquets would “wish health” on each other by emptying their cups; and in the eighteenth century Bordeaux wines and frothy champagnes were adopted across the Channel for making toasts. Prior to its defeat by Napoleon in 1797, the Venetian Republic was no exception to this rule. Venice was at its peak as the most elegant and refined city in Europe. Some years later, the Venetian Francesco Guardi invites us to a Ladies Concert at the Philharmonic Hall. The son of Catherine II of Russia, the Tsarevitch Paul Petrovich and his second wife, Maria Teodorovna, are visiting Venice.

For a whole week they experience the non-stop festivities, organised as though in denial of the political and economic decline of the Sérénissime. One of the receptions organised in their honor, “una magnifica festa de ballo” at the Philharmonic Theatre of S. Benedetto, is entertained by the famous orchestral and voice ensemble of the la Pieta orphanage. Glasses of wine are offered to the guests: could it be a pale red niebolo, the wine of choice in Piedmont? 

Suggestion : Wolfgang Amedeus Mozart, Rondo for piano and orchestra K. 382 in d major (1782). Piece of music created the same year as the one painted by Guardi.

It was common practice, in Medieval times, to offer barrels of wine as gifts to influential people. Such exchanges took place during visits to abbeys (Cluny, for example), but also in royal courts. It was important to remind foreign visitors of both the existence and quality of French wines. These visitors, often influential aristocrats, would then spread the word among their followers and friends. In 1201, Philippe Auguste, hosting English King John at his palace in Paris, gave him and his entourage sorts of wines from the royal cellar. As well as this, Philippe Auguste offered gold and silver, rich cloth, horses and other valuable gifts to the King. (Roger Dion, Histoire de la vigne et du vin en France, des origines au XIXe siècle, CNRS Editions).

Banquets and the representation thereof have also been political and public tools. Banquets legitimise power and unite subjects, friends and allies.


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1. Scipio, coming from Carthage, was surprised to encounter Hasdrubal in Siga (an ancient city in what is now Algeria) at the Court of Prince Syphax. Both were seeking an alliance. Syphax offered to help in finding a peaceful way out of the conflict between them – a series of events leading to the Second Punic War. Texts of the time tell us that instead of bringing the two ambassadors to the negotiating table, the prince threw them a banquet instead (206 BC).

2. Mark Antony, now master of the Roman Orient, has ordered to Cilicia all the Eastern sovereigns under Roman control. Cleopatra, the last Queen of Egypt, arrives aboard a sumptuous galley and throws a banquet in his honour: a show of debauched luxury to flatter Mark Antony’s taste for splendour. Claiming she’s offering him the richest feast in History, Cleopatra uses a stratagem recounted by Pliny the Elder: “the dinner was to cost the price set and she would consume the ten million sestertiums alone. She ordered the second course. Following her instructions, the servers set before her a vase filled with a vinegar* whose violent acidity could dissolve pearls. She wore extraordinary jewels in her ears, truly unique natural masterpieces.

When Mark Antony asked what she was going to do, she removed one of her pearls, plunged it into the liquid and, once it had been dissolved, swallowed it.” (Pliny the Elder, Historia Naturalis, IX 119-121; the story was also told by Plutarch in his Lives of illustrious men). Cleopatra is here depicted as a beautiful Flemish woman – meaning, at the time, plump and round-cheeked. The fool behind her is laughing at the trick she’s playing on the Roman. Mark Antony, in the uniform of a Roman general, is shown with his helmet, visibly subjugated, the pommel of his sword symbolising his virility.


* This has often been said, but it was more likely a strongly-acetified wine, common at this time.



4. Tiepolo has chosen to capture the moment where the queen shows the heavy pearl to her fascinated guests: Mark Antony, in dress uniform and feathered helmet, and Lucius Plancus, a Roman consul, here transformed by the painter into a Asian potentiate.

5. This is a 17th-century copy of a 16th-century painting, itself based on an original dating from the start of the 15th century. The scene depicts elegant lords and ladies, all dressed in white, surrounded by their servants and dogs. They are enjoying the combined pleasures of an outdoor meal, music, dancing and hunting. In the background is a river, in the middle of which stands a curious building on stilts. 

The colours displayed on the musicians’ trumpets and above the door of the building are those of Philip the Good (Duke of Burgundy from 1419 to 1467) or Charles the Timid (1467 to 1477) but the costumes correspond more to the fashion of 1410-1420. The landscape might belong to the park of Hesdin Castle in the Artois region, which did contain a “water lodge” on stilts in the middle of the Ternoise river.

6a and 6b. In 1520, for 18 days (between 7 to 24 June), a famous meeting between Henry VIII and Francois I – that of The Field of the Cloth of Gold – took place on French soil, in the English enclave of Calais. To the right of the canvas we can see the temporary palace built for Henry VIII. A crowd has come to admire the camp and enjoy its attractions, such as the two fountains providing wine and beer free for people's consumption (the over-indulgence of which leads some of the figures in the painting being sick or engaging in brawling).


The wine is red, coming from French Gascony via the port of Bordeaux. An estimated 12,000 people attended the Field of the Cloth of Gold and all had to be catered for. Large kitchen tents and bread ovens were erected in the encampments and food supplies were sourced from far and wide. English accounts reveal that they took nearly 200,000 litres of wine and 66,000 litres of beer. Some of this ran through the fountains. English food supplies included 98,000 eggs, more than 2,00o sheep, 13 swans, and 3 porpoises (source: Historic Royal Palaces).

7. This ‘post mortem’ allegorical work (detail) relates the major events of the life of Sir Henry Unton, Elizabeth I’s ambassador to the French king Henri IV. It was commissioned by his widow. Here, he is shown presiding at a banquet, surrounded by his hosts. As was customary at the time, there are no glasses on the table. A servant is shown in the background next to a table covered in carafes and glasses: he is responsible for serving wine to guests on demand.

8. This princely feast brought together three generations of the House of Hapsburg: the Emperor Charles V (1500-1558), his son Philippe II (1527-1598) and his granddaughter the Archduchess Isabella (1566-1633). Although this banquet was pure fiction, it represented sovereign authority. It all contributed to the argument for the legitimacy of the heir apparent’s succession.

10. In 1688 James II, the Catholic King of England, Scotland and Ireland, was ousted by parliament in the 'Glorious Revolution' (!) and fled to exile in France. James did not, however, quietly relinquish his claim to the throne, and immediately began plotting his return. So began a political and military struggle that would last for almost sixty years as the Stuart dynasty sought to reclaim its lost kingdoms.


Throughout the years of struggle in exile, the Stuarts continued to have many supporters in England and Scotland. Because their support was treasonous, the Stuart sympathizers – the Jacobites – instituted, among other things, the practice of drinking toasts to their king ‘over the water’ in glasses engraved with coded symbols that reflected their loyalties. Often a glass of wine would be held above a bowl or glass of water as a toast to the health of the king was offered; thus literally toasting the king over the water, which symbolizes the ocean which separates the King from his true kingdom. The ring may evoke the goldand enamel finger ring inset with monogram JR and crown, given by James VII to Sir Peter Halkett the night he fled from London in 1688. Sir Peter was a member of a long-standing Royalist family.

* Symbolizing the King as an embodiment of precious gold, or the sun.

11. Real title : The Provost and Municipal Magistrates of Paris Discussing the Celebration of Louis XIV's Dinner at the Hotel de Ville after his Recovery in 1689.

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14.  In the 17th century, the bourgeois members of Franz Hals’ Banquet of the Officers of the Saint Adrian Civil Guard posed for posterity, proud both of their civic and corporate spirit, and of belonging to the “respectable militia of the city of Haarlem.” They are not stereotypical partygoers, but named individuals, gathered together in a festive portrait around a banquet. Let’s judge from this that only the choicest wine is being served here. Perhaps Val de Loire, much favoured by the Dutch: an old grape variety, the excellent Pineau de la Loire, better known today as Chenin Blanc, makes a very sweet wine. A wine which represents the men’s social status.

Frans Hals captures with panache the attitudes, gestures, physiognomies and expressions of these officers, whose celebrations lasted several days. The authorities ended up limiting the festivities, controversial at the time, to four days maximum: this gives an idea of the scale of the feast, and its occasional excesses. The guards could consume “gargantuan” amounts of food and alcohol. In 1621, Haarlem’s municipal authorities, informed that some militia banquets had lasted a whole week, made a law to limit such excess. Given that the municipality had to pay the costs and that times were troubled (the law was enacted after the reprise of hostilities with Spain), it was decreed that such celebrations “must not last more than three days, or four days at most…” 

15.  "June 1648: a banquet is taking place at the Amsterdam crossbowmen’s guild. The occasion was the signing of the Treaty of Münster, which marked an end to the war with Spain. The captains of the civic guard company shake hands as a sign of peace, and the drinking horn is passed around. The poem on the drum proclaims the joy of Amsterdam’s armed militia that their weapons can henceforth be laid to rest" (from the Rijksmuseum). Naturally, wine plays a part in the celebratory banquet.


16. During the same period, wine allows this character, The Merry Drinker, to affirm his social status. As an officer in the Dutch militia, the subject wishes to show both his civic-mindedness and his material success.The latter allows him to enjoy the best wines, served in German-made Berkemeyer glasses. He is a man of taste; he must convince others of this fact, hence the commissioned portrait.


17. Frans Hals was a member of a Chamber of Rhetoric in Haarlem. These literary societies, which modelled themselves on commercial guilds, initially aimed to promote art in public life. From the fifteenth century in the Netherlands, rhetorical literature was produced by citizens and artisans, reunited in these amateur societies. The Chambers regularly organised literary competitions and played an active role in local festivities such as this Feast of the Chamber of Rhetoricians near a Town-Gate.In this painting Jan Steen gives us an ironic look at the ‘eloquence’ of the drinker. The rhetoricians’ penchant for drinking was often criticised by ‘polite’ members of society.

18th to 21st CENTURY

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2. Long before the beginning of the French Revolution, Englishmen had long elected their own Parliamentary representatives. In Hogarth’s An Election Entertainment, the Whigs (Liberals) give a campaign dinner while outside, the Tories (Conservatives) host a parade. The dinner has turned into a riot, and nearly every figure in this riotous scene is heavily drunk. 

At left, the Whig party’s candidate seduces an old woman for her favor; the second candidate just behind him is unwillingly embraced by several drunkards. At the other end of the table, the town mayor is being leeched after gorging on oysters. Violence is also prevalent: at right, officials attempt to barricade the door against a mob of Tory voters outside, and the party secretary, counting the votes, is struck on the head by a brick lobbed through the window. The king’s portrait hangs slashed and forgotten above the whole affair!


3. The Banquet for elector Clemens August of Cologne in the Casino Nani on the Isle of Giudecca in Venice, 1755 was given in honor of Clement-Auguste, Duke of Bavaria, Prince-Elector Archbishop of Cologne, on the 9th September 1755.

4. This scene takes place in the grande salle of the Episcopal Palace of Tau in Reims, on 25th October 1722. It depicts the ‘sacred feast’, a banquet held for the coronation of Louis XV when he was only twelve years old. He is seated in the foreground, facing the viewer. He eats alone, surrounded by dignitaries. His table, installed on a platform and placed beneath a dais, dominates the assembly. A series of valets approach him, passing between the other four tables where the rest of the guests are sitting. Aristocrats watch from the sides of the room or the balcony. We can see that the painter wished to be as accurate as possible, even copying the paintings hanging on the walls. The young king is separated from the other guests, who are divided between four tables in a precise order: first, secular and ecclesiastical peers, followed by title holders (members of the Court, knights of the Order of Saint-Esprit, and so on) at the back of the room, and diplomats. While the tables are served by local dignitaries dressed in black, the king was served with great pomp by a cortege of twenty-odd servants and dignitaries, preceded by musicians. 

Service à la française meant that numerous dishes were placed on the table at the same time; the guests helped themselves and the best parts of the leftovers were served to officers, clergymen and local dignitaries. The food is not shown here because the guests are waiting between courses.

7. On the eve of their execution, 31st October 1793, the twenty Girondins shared the same simple meal offered to all condemned prisoners and including wine.


9. After the religious marriage ceremony of Napoleon I and Marie-Louise and the procession that followed, a great banquet was held: the grand couvert, where the sovereign and his family ate before the public at the Tuileries. Shown sitting in the centre, Napoleon gestures to Marie-Louise to help herself. The members of the imperial family are seated according to their rank on stools to either side of the couple. The table is set with silver-gilt and the Emperor’s table service, composed of antique-style white Sèvres porcelain. Carafes of water and wine are placed before the guests, whose drinks are served while the dishes are cut and brought to them. The banquet only lasted for twenty minutes. According to the officer Coignet, witness to the scene, “no one spoke. Guests were only allowed to talk when the head of the table was addressing his neighbor. It might be imposing, but it is not merry” (from Histoire par l’image).


10.  Every 8th June, the Duke of Wellington invited all the officers who had served with him at the Battle of Waterloo to a banquet, where he would give a speech. This victory celebration would take place in the ‘Waterloo Gallery’ that he had had constructed within his home, Apsley House, near Hyde Park Corner in London.

12. Banquet à l'occasion du mariage de Léopold 1er de Belgique et de la princesse Louise d'Orléans, flle aînée de Louis-Philippe. Le mariage proprement dit a été célébré dans la chapelle du château de Compiègne.

14. Queen Victoria’s official visit to Paris for the Universal Exhibition of 1855 symbolized the new, cordial relationship between France and England. The itinerary of the Queen, Prince Albert and their children was decided by Napoleon III himself. The monarchs visited museums and monuments, receptions and official ceremonies; they went to the Universal Exhibition* no less than three times.

Bowled over by the beauty of the capital, Victoria was also impressed by the splendor of the imperial court, notably that of a supper in the Salle de l’Opéra at Versailles on 25th August, which she admired from the royal box: “It was a magnificent spectacle,” she wrote. “The whole stage was covered, and four hundred people were seated around forty small tables of ten places, each one presided over by a lady of quality and skillfully set out according to the Empress’s instructions. Each was magnificently lit by numerous chandeliers and decorated with a garland of flowers […] It was one of the most beautiful, most majestic scenes we had ever seen.” The supper was preceded by a firework display and a ball in the Galerie des Glaces.


15. Lavish Imperial festivities continued throughout the reign of Napoleon III. Reception after reception was held in sumptuous surroundings, such as the redecorated rooms of the Louvre and the Tuileries. Official visits justified elegant gatherings attended by the international elite. For Napoleon III, these events were an opportunity for seducing and controlling the traditional upper crust, who were naturally inclined to be hostile towards him.

* That of 1855, well known to lovers of the grands vins of Bordeaux. As its name suggests, the 1855 ranking was established that year, following a request from Napoleon III, for the Universal Exhibition in Paris. The aim of this exhibition was to bring together the best products of France. In this spirit, Napoleon III asked the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce, who passed the message on to the Gironde wine trade association, to establish an official classification of Bordeaux wines in order to facilitate commercial transactions.

The traders fixed a ranking according to price (the ‘classed’ crus were to be the most expensive), which was naturally linked to the reputation of the cru. All the red wines came from the Médoc region, except Château Haut-Brion, from the Graves. The whites were limited to Sauternes and sweet Barsac. Two details: this ranking has never been modified and still applies to properties whose perimeters, one hundred and sixty years later, have changed. 

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1. The scene in a tavern opposite Mount Aventine illustrates an aspect of life of the German artists in Rome. Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria was a patron of the arts, and here we see him seated with the artists, calling the landlord. The painter wrote in 1824: "I recently finished a small Bamboccia painting for the Crown Prince of Bavaria... His Royal Highness graciously organized a small dinner at Don Raffaele's on the Ripa Grande to bid farewell to von Klenze, and he asked me to immortalize the scene with my brush." Catel listed the men he has portrayed: the Crown Prince gesturing to the landlord, beside him Berthel Thorvaldsen, the architect Leo van Klenze, Johann Martin Wagner, who was in Rome to buy antique figures for Munich's collection, then Philipp Veit, Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld and Catel himself.



2. Now let’s go out into the field: the United States, probably Baltimore (Maryland), where Richard Caton Woodville, only 23 years old, was born and where his family still lived. We are invited to observe an intergenerational political discussion. It’s 1848: the National Democratic Convention has just taken place, in late May. It was organised to nominate the Democratic presidential and vice-presidential candidates for the election later that year. The Convention chose Michigan Senator Lewis Cass as presidential nominee and former Kentucky representative William O. Butler for the vice-presidency. This Democratic ticket would go onto be beaten at the election by the Whig (liberal right-wing) ticket of Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore. So this pair have plenty to discuss! Is this conversation happening before the presidential election, or after it? Whatever the timing, the older of the two protagonists seems unengaged and rather sceptical, if not cynical.


3. Johann Caspar Bosshardt was a Swiss German, originally from the Canton of Zurich, which was largely Protestant. While he spent the last thirty years of his life in Germany, he often went back to Switzerland. Here, he denounces the earthly preoccupations of Catholic monks. The young Jesuit here is shown as the secular arm of the Catholic Church. Painted during the Kulturkampf*, this painting, Politics in the Monastery, was at the time considered a violently anti-Catholic statement. In 1872, the Jesuit Congregation was dissolved in Germany. Then, one year before the painting, 24th December 1875, civil weddings were made compulsory in Switzerland (the same measure had been implemented in Germany earlier that year). Visibly, the priest and the two monks are still discussing this, in the cellar of the monastery, far from prying eyes. This law meant that marriages had to be enacted before an administrative officer in order to be considered legal and, therefore, valid. At the same time, the law had reduced religious marriage to an optional private ceremony. (Curator’s note: The legislation adopted in Germany as part of the Kulturkampf came several years before the secularisation measures applied in France, especially those dealing with secularism in schools.)

4. A French soldier, disguised as a peasant, was caught during an attempt to pass through the German lines surrounding the French city of Metz. He knew that when the German officers finished their search and interrogation he would be shot. Metz capitulated after a fifty-four day siege, and after the war the city was ceded to the Germans. The present painting, extolling the courage and bravery of the captured Frenchman, is an example of the numerous paintings with patriotic and nationalistic themes that appeared in the Salons during the seventies and eighties.

5. Emile Friant, who is sitting in an inn on the banks of the Meurthe, listens to these four workers sitting around a table, discussing and debating over a glass of wine. They are talking about politics – namely, about the 1889 electoral campaign which pitted the General Boulanger against Maurice Barrès. Not that they had nothing else to talk about: it was an eventful year, with the Panama Canal scandal ruining its shareholders; the 1st May being chosen by trades union as an emblem of the European and American workers’ struggle after the bloody demonstrations of 1st May 1886 and 1887; a new law on nationality reintroducing citizenship by birth after almost a century, attributing French nationality to everyone born in France, unless they refused it in the year of their majority.



6. La victoire en Europe semble de plus en plus proche et chez le peuple britannique le soulagement finit par l'emporter sur l'anxiété. Ce changement d’humeur s'impose dans War or no War, Who Cares? comme le montrent l'air détendu et le sourire chaleureux de cet homme. 

* Anti-Catholic campaign led by Bismarck in Germany (1871-1878). Aimed at breaking the links between Rome and the German Church in order to place the latter under state control, in 1873 Bismarck’s religious policy was given the name Kulturkampf (“fight for civilisation”). It was a fight against a Catholic Church considered archaic, retrograde and favourable to cultural particularities. Falk, a rigid Protestant assigned to the Ministry of Religion in 1872, implemented strict legislation: a law against the Jesuits, dissolving their congregations; May laws imposing the State inspection of all ecclesiastical training establishments; control over Church nominations; and laws imposing civil marriage (1874-1875). The opposition, despite support from Pope Pius IX, was hit hard. But after the arrival of Leon XIII in 1878, Bismarck – needing support from centrists – disowned Falk (1879) and adopted “peace laws” (1880-1887), undoing most of the measures taken against the Catholic Church.

> Découvrez les œuvres dans leur entier en cliquant sur les vignettes

L’art et la politique ont toujours entretenu une relation étroite. Certains artistes n'hésitent pas à utiliser leur travail pour exprimer leurs opinions politiques et promouvoir le changement social.

1 et 2. Diego Rivera est un peintre mexicain. Bien qu'il ait tout au long de sa vie pratiqué la peinture de chevalet, il est mondialement connu pour ses peintures murales, réalisées au Mexique, principalement à Mexico - comme ici dans le cadre d'une commande du gouvernement post-révolutionnaire -, et aux Etats-Unis. Ces peintures sont indissociables de ses convictions politiques. 



3. Peng Wan Ts, a person of Taiwanese origin living in Paris, was always at the forefront of social and political criticism.


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Joos van Cleve (attribué à), 1510
Musées royaux des Beaux-arts de Belgique, Bruxelles


Un échanson était un officier chargé de servir à boire à un roi, un prince ou à tout autre personnage de haut rang. L'échanson devait en particulier veiller à écarter tout risque d'empoisonnement et parfois même goûter le vin avant de le servir. En raison de la crainte permanente d'intrigues et de complots, la charge revenait à une personne en qui le souverain plaçait une confiance totale. Ses relations confidentielles avec le roi lui donnaient souvent une position de grande influence qu'il utilisait pour se rendre indispensable. Camillo dans Le Conte d’hiver de Shakespeare est l’échanson de Léonte, roi de Sicile, et de Polixène, roi de Bohême. Lorsque Léonte est convaincu de l’infidélité de sa femme Hermione avec Polixène, il supplie Camillo d’utiliser sa position privilégiée d’échanson pour empoisonner Polixène !


Ce tableau a fait l'objet, en 1941, d'une "vente forcée" en 1941, via un intermédiaire, à Adolphe Hitler pour la collection Linz. Le chancelier était végétarien, avec "uniquement des produits frais, des asperges aux petits pois en passant par des poivrons, du riz, mais aussi des salades” et ne buvait pas d'alcool. Cela tournait à l'obsession. Par ailleurs, une douzaine de jeunes femmes étaient contraintes de "goûter" la nourriture destinée au Führer, totalement persuadé que l'on voulait l'empoisonner. Ce portrait aurait pu le conforter dans les mesures prises pour le protéger. L'évolution de la guerre a nécessité son dépôt dans les salines d'Alt-Aussee. Il sera retrouvé en 1945 par la division américaine Monuments, Fine Arts & Archives, il sera restitué à la Belgique, et cédé en 1951 aux Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts. 


Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Autumn, Musee du Louvre

Originally from Milan, Giuseppe Arcimboldo moved to Vienna in 1562 to serve as court portraitist to the Hapsburg emperor Ferdinand I (1503-1564), then to his son Maximilian II (1527-1576). Although he painted several members of the imperial family, his rapid rise to fame was due to his series of heads representing the Seasons, the Elements, Occupations and famous faces of the time. Each painting consists of a collection of vegetables, animals or various objects, cleverly assembled to form the head and shoulders of an recognisable subject. Arcimboldo’s four seasons are political allegories which, as well as being entertaining, contain messages glorifying the sovereign, emperor Maximilian II. Autumn (1573, Musée du Louvre, Paris) uses the grape harvest: the subject’s hair is made of bunches of grapes, vine leaves and a pumpkin. His eye is a sloe topped with a ear of corn, his nose a pear, his mouth a chestnut casing, and his ear a mushroom decorated with an overripe fig. The shirt is a disassembled barrel held together by a tie, as though reflecting Maximilian’s effort to hold together the diverse populations of his empire. The two green olives are a symbol of peace.


Autumn is an older man represented in a similar way to Bacchus, god of wine. Like all drinkers, wine can bring out the good and the bad in him. This drink pushes men to give the best of themselves, or the worst. Followed by a cohort of maenads and satyrs, Bacchus travels the country and helps men to forget their troubles, much as an Emperor travels across his nation, leading and supporting his people, accompanied by his courtiers (Source : Exhibition catalogue for "Arcimboldo", Musée du Luxembourg, 2007/2008).


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Hans von Aachen, 1602

The Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia

Les trois figures féminines incarnent la paix (avec un rameau d’olivier), la science et les arts libéraux* (avec une sphère et une palette) et l’abondance (avec une coupe de vin et une corne d’abondance). Le sujet était destiné à vanter symboliquement les politiques pacifiques de l’empereur romain germanique Rodolphe II à Prague qui ont conduit à la prospérité et à l’épanouissement du savoir et des arts.

* Les arts libéraux remontent à l'Antiquité et désignent les disciplines intellectuelles jugées fondamentales dans la formation de la pensée de l'individu : grammaire, rhétorique, dialectique, arithmétique, musique, astronomie et géométrie, qui devaient constituer le socle de l’éducation intellectuelle.


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Gerrit van Honthorst, 1623

National Gallery of Art, Washington


This painting may have been a diplomatic gift. A possible source for such a gift was the exiled king of Bohemia, Frederick V, who had moved to The Hague with his wife, Elizabeth Stuart, after his Protestant troops were defeated by Catholic forces. They actively collected works of art and lived a sumptuous lifestyle with funds partially provided by the Prince of Orange. They were great admirers of Honthorst, and he eventually became their court artist. Frederick and Elizabeth may have commissioned the painting and then presented it to the Prince of Orange in appreciation for his financial support. The Concert was much more than a decorative element in a courtly setting. It also had an underlying political message. Harmony in society, as well as in music, exists when the guidance of its leader is followed (source: NGA, Washington).

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Frederick Sandys gives an enigmatic depiction of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, crowned Queen of England after her marriage to the future Henry II (1858 – National Museum Cardiff, Wales). At first glance, it looks like a simple wine tasting, but numerous details contradict this interpretation: Eleanor appears preoccupied, even determined; and why is the scene set in the woods, against a backdrop of hedges? The artist is actually retelling a dark and persistent rumour. Legend has it that Eleanor murdered Rosamund Clifford, favourite mistress of her husband (some thirty years younger than herself), by forcing her to choose between a poisoned chalice of wine and a dagger. This might explain her unusual appearance. But why the woods? The story goes that, to keep Eleanor from discovering his affair, Henry II hid his beloved Rosamund in a house which he had had built for her in Blenheim Park (Woodstock, Oxfordshire), cleverly concealed in the centre of a hedgerow maze. Unable to find her way, Eleanor didn’t know what her husband was hiding. But then one day, the king accidentally snagged his robes as he left the labyrinth, unknowingly leaving a piece of cloth behind. Having discovered the entrance to the maze, Eleanor found Rosamund there in her house. Upon which, she forced her rival to choose between poison and the blade.


Is this tale plausible? In 1173, Eleanor had hatched a plot which brought her sons Richard, Geoffrey and Henry the Younger into conflict with their father. This revolt was supported by Louis VII, the Scottish king William I, and some of the most powerful English barons. Eleanor, hoping to take power away from Henry II, attempted to reach the court of Louis VII in Paris, but was arrested en route by her husband’s soldiers. She was imprisoned for almost sixteen years – first in Chinon, then Salisbury and several other English castles. In short, she couldn’t have been behind Rosamund’s death, which occurred in 1176, while Eleanor was confined in Winchester!

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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: Feast at Louveciennes, September 2, 1771 in honor of the King; Louis XVI Wearing a Red Cap, June 20, 1792 day, the King is toasting the Nation; Banquet of Russian Navy Officers, in Paris Town Hall, Performance Hall-room, French-Russian Feasts at Paris, October 19, 1893; Banquet of French Lord Mayors at Paris, 1900, 22,500 places.


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