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Wine as a Source of Christian Redemption

"Le Pressoir mystique", Ambrogio Borgognone (attr. à), 1528 - Sainte Marie l'Immaculée, Milan | Rédemption | Sang du Christ, iconographie chrétienne | De vin divin en vin Sacré | Vin et Peinture | Le Musée Virtuel du Vin


Ambrogio Borgognone (given to)
First chapel of the right side of Santa Maria Incoronata, Milan, Italy





From the Middle Ages to the 16th century, the fermentation of wine was seen as a transformative process separating the pure from the impure; the juice of the grape was to become the basis of all Church sacraments and emblematic of Redemption. This idea related to the symbolism of the Christian Eucharist, where the sacrifice of the body and blood of Christ are represented by bread and wine which bestow eternal life and redemption on believers who share in the Communion. Those who fail to “render to Him the fruits in their seasons” will be judged (Matthew 21:41).

The image of the mystical winepress represents Christ being crushed like a grape. This type of image emerged at a time when the notion of sacrifice was at the forefront of Christian devotion. It was inspired by a verse from the prophet Isaiah (63:2-6) : "Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel, and thy garments like him that treadeth in the winefat? I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me: for I will tread them in mine anger, and trample them in my fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my raiment. For the day of vengeance is in mine heart, and the year of my redeemed is come. And I looked, and there was none to help; and I wondered that there was none to uphold: therefore mine own arm brought salvation unto me; and my fury, it upheld me. And I will tread down the people in mine anger, and make them drunk in my fury, and I will bring down their strength to the earth." It also comes from the Biblical episode of the Grapes of Canaan (left), in which emissaries sent to explore by Moses bring back a bunch of grapes so heavy that they have to carry it in pairs with the aid of a pole.

AUTUMN, Nicolas Poussin, 1660-1664 - Musée du Louvre, Paris

Suggestion: Johann Sebastian Bach, Choral BWV 659 Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland / Savior of the nations, come (1747-1750), Transcr. for piano Ferruccio Busoni


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Christ is shown either lying between the screws of the press, or treading the grapes his blood mixing with the juice. First emerging in the 12th century, this image became popular throughout Europe at the end of the Middle Ages (and later elsewhere). It features in miniatures, frescoes, paintings, stained glass, sculptures, ceramics and many other art forms, including literature. First used as a devotional image, it was to evolve in the 16th and 17th centuries: during the Wars of Religion, it was adopted as a theological weapon against the Protestants, demonstrating as it did the doctrine of transubstantiation. Somewhat forgotten in the 18th century, the concept of the mystical winepress survived through Épinal prints and re-emerged in the 20th century, notably in countries ravaged by the Wars.


7 and 9. The theme of the Mystical Bath, associated with purification by the blood of Christ, has its roots in a widespread devotional practice in the North of France from the end of the 15th century. It evokes both the Mystical Winepress (torcular Christi), a crucifixion metaphor where the body of Christ is compared to a bunch of grapes, from which the Eucharist wine (a drink was supposed to heal souls delivered from sin) is extracted; and the Fountain of Youth, which confers regeneration and eternal life.


A bunch of grapes or the wine itself are often present in Renaissance images of the Virgin and Child. Symbols foreshadowing the Eucharist, they remind viewers of the earthly nature of Christ and his death on the Cross for the redemption of sinners. To illustrate this theme, the Virtual Wine Museum presents the work of four artists of the time: German painters Lucas Cranach the Elder and his son, Lucas Cranach the Younger; plus the unnamed Master of the Female Half-Lengths and Joos Van Cleve, both Flemish painters of the Anvers School.

Suggestion: Johann Sebastian Bach, Christmas Oratorio BWV 248, Cantata 1: For the First Day of Christmas,  3. Arioso (1734-1735)

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3. The bunch of grapes held up or caressed by the two figures is no random prop. In fact, grapes are linked to both Mary and the Christ child. Early Christian depictions associate the Virgin with the vine: she allows the baby Jesus to “ripen” like “divine fruit”. There are numerous links back to Christ: grapes remind us of the Eucharist, but also of the press, symbolising Jesus’ martyrdom. Mary’s slightly nostalgic look as she watches over her baby can be interpreted as a proof of Christ’s determination. (source: Musée du Luxembourg, Paris).

6. Cherries complement the bunch of grapes because they symbolise Resurrection and the promise of Heaven for virtuous Christians.

7. The orange shown in this work may seem odd. In fact, the fruit is linked to chastity and purity, as well as original sin and redemption when held instead of an apple by the infant Jesus. The glass filled with red wine is a symbol of the Eucharist (this work and the following 8 and 9).a

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