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Nectar of the Gods  |  The Blood of the Grapes  |  The Blood of Christ

The Blood of Christ in the New Testament and Christian Iconography

LA DERNIÈRE CÈNE,  Cosimo Rosselli, 1481/82 - Mur nord de la chapelle Sixtine, Rome, Vatican


Cosimo Rosselli (1439-1507)


 Cappella Sistina, Rome, Vatican

From the Wedding at Cana to the Book of Revelations, wine appears frequently in the New Testament. Wine plays a role in several Bible stories, most notably the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, the Last Supper and the Supper at Emmaus. Although the ‘mystical winepress’ does not appear in the Bible, it is used in iconography to refer directly to the blood of Christ.

All Bible quotations in English are taken from the 1769 King James Version (KJV) translation of original Hebrew and Greek texts.

Our musical suggestions are taken from pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach, often called the “Fifth Evangelist” for his interpretation of biblical sources.

Paolo Veronese (1528-1588)  
Musée du Louvre, Paris


Veronese sets the scene with a mixture of profane and sacred elements. Religious symbols presaging the Passion of the Christ are placed beside 16th-century gold and silver tableware. The furniture, table, ewers, cups and crystal vases reveal the splendor of the feast. Every guest at the table has his own place setting, consisting of a napkin, forks and a trencher. The artist has missed no detail of the double reading; while a servant carves the meat – symbol of the mystical body of Christ – at the centre of the composition, boxes of quinces – symbols of marriage – are served to the guests as a dessert. Veronese puts together a veritable mise en scene. The theme allows him to create a stage-like background setting for his characters. The upper half of the composition shows... 


Find out more: Gallery Marriage at Cana >>


Giotto dit Bondone (1267-1337)


Capella Peruzzi, Santa Croce, Florence, Italy


John the Baptist (who baptised Christ) is imprisoned after denouncing the incestuous marriage of ruler Herod Antipas with Herodias, his own niece and wife of his half-brother. Salome, Herodias’ daughter, dances for banquet’s guests to the dulcet tones of a vielle (a medieval string instrument). Her performance bewitches the king, who offers her anything she wants in return. Upon the advice of her mother, Salome demands the head of John the Baptist, which she presents to the king. She then passes it to Herodias as the musician continues to play.

Find out more: Gallery Feast of Herod >>


Peter Paul Rubens (1588-1640), Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641)

Between 1618 and 1620

Hermitage, St Petersburg, Russia


During a feast hosted by Simon the Pharisee, where Christ and his disciples are guests, a repentant woman enters the house. She washes Jesus’ feet with her tears, dries them with her hair and anoints them with perfume. Simon is scandalised and criticises Christ for allowing a sinner to touch him and wasting the precious pomades. Jesus answers with the example of two debtors: one owing a lot, and the other a little. The lender writes off both their debts. Which debtor will love him more? The one who receives the most back, Simon replies. Jesus congratulates him for this answer. Jesus reminds Simon of the woman’s show of respect and love towards him, then concludes... 


Find out more: Gallery Meal at Simon the Pharisee >>

Salomon Koninck (1609-1656)
The Hermitage, St Petersburg, Russia


It is the harvest season. A vineyard owner can see that it is time to pick the grapes. Around 6 o’clock in the morning, he leaves his house and goes to the market in search of some day-labourers. He hires several workers at the rate of one denier for the day. At the time, agricultural workers would labour from dawn until dusk, from around 6am to 6pm. Three hours later, at 9am, the vineyard owner returns to the market to take on more workers. He promises them a reasonable wage, but without specifying a precise amount. As the work continues, the vineyard owner sees that he is going to need even more help... 


Find out more: Gallery Allegories and Parables >>


Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) 
Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan, Italy


This is Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous work of the 1490s. The scene is painted directly onto the wall of the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan. The painting shows the last supper of Christ and his disciples before his arrest and execution. It shows the exact moment where Jesus declares: “one of you will betray me”. Da Vinci conveys the twelve disciples’ consternation at this news. The writer Mathieu Bandello observed Leonardo at work and wrote that, some days, he would paint from dawn to dusk without stopping – even for meals – and then would stop work completely for three or four days in a row. According to Vasari, this work pattern angered the Prior, who harassed the painter until da Vinci asked the Duke of Milan, Ludovic Sforza, to step in....


Find out more: Gallery Last Supper >>


Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610)


National Gallery, London


Emmaus is cited in an episode of the last chapter of the Gospel according to Luke. On Easter morning, Christ has just risen from the dead following his crucifixion and entombment. He appears to two of his disciples who are on the road to Emmaus, having fled Jerusalem after the crucifixion. They invite Jesus to eat with them despite not recognising him: “And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight” (Luke 24: 30-1). This first version of the painting, bathed in light (Caravaggio was to produce a second, much darker version of the scene five years later), illustrate the renewal of faith brought about by this encounter with the risen Christ... 


Find out more: Gallery Supper at Emmaus >>

Jacobello Alberegno (...- bef. 1397)

Galleria del'Accademia, Venice, Italy



The judgement of this harvest consists of gathering the righteous. He who will lead the Final Judgement has a sharp sickle in His hand, and the angel emerging from the temple throws the sickle on the grapes in the field. The harvesters are angels whose job consists of separating the righteous from the unrighteous, the wheat from the chaff. The ripe fruits indicate that autumn, traditionally the harvest season, has arrived. The wrath of God will strike the Earth and those who have produced no fruit will have to face His judgement (Matthew 21: 33-43). The grape harvest represents this judgement of the ‘unrighteous’, and the great winepress will be reserved for those who refuse to repent. These unrepentant sinners will be thrown into ‘the great winepress of the wrath of God’.


Find out more: Gallery Harvest of the Earth >>

Ambrogio Borgogne (given to)

1528 ?

Santa Maria Incoronata, Milan, Italy



During the Middle Ages and up until the 16th century, the fermentation of wine was considered as a transformative process, during which the pure was separated from the impure. This conception was related to the Christian symbolism of the Eucharist, where the sacrifice of Christ’s body and blood are represented by bread and wine. These foodstuffs then become the source of eternal life and redemption for those who take communion.  The body of Christ is either represented lying under the wheel of a winepress or upright, treading the grapes while his blood mixes with the juice. First appearing in the 12th century, this image was exceptionally popular at the end of the Middle Ages...


Find out more: Gallery Redemption >>



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