Wine and the vine in graphic arts: engravings and drawings
WITHOUT FOOD OR WINE, LOVE GROWS COLD
1. Goltzius illustrates this quotation from the Latin poet Terence (ca. 185-160 BC.): “Without Ceres and Bacchus, Venus would freeze”. In other words, without food and wine, love grows cold. In Roman mythology, Ceres is the goddess of agriculture, harvests and fertility. It is a gigantic "pen-work", an ink-on-canvas drawing transfigured by rosy touches of oil paint.
BACCHANAL CELEBRATIONS BECOME DRUNKEN ORGIES
2. Linked to the Dionysian mysteries, bacchanals were held in honor of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, drunkenness and excess (especially sexual excess). These fetes were originally held among women in secret on the 16th and 17th March. From this point, the celebrations took place at least three times a year, organised and supervised by respectable matrons.
The bacchanals became public festivals and were celebrated across Greece and Egypt, but principally in Rome. The festivals, which lasted between three and five days according to the region, were organised around theatrical performances which served as religious ceremonies. The bacchanals soon became a pretext for extravagant shows of disorder; such celebrations increasingly turned into night-time orgies of public drunkenness and licentiousness.
Pablo Picasso, 1955, black ink on Arches, 33 x 50,5 cm - MNAM, Paris
The Romans distrusted this orgiastic cult, which planted disorder and posed a risk to the State. Men would feign religious frenzy as the women, wearing the disguise of the festival, ran towards the Tiber with torches. Among the initiated of the sect were certain high-ranking men and women. It was decided that the bacchanals would only admit under-20s, considered more docile in the context of the wild initiations.
La The courtesan Hispala Fecenia revealed the secret of these practices to a young man whom she loved, Publius Aebutius, in order to protect him from his own mother, who wished to initiate him into the mysteries of Bacchus. Publius refused to be initiated, so was thrown out by his mother and stepfather. He sought refuge with one of his aunts, who advised him to share his story with the consul Postumius; after hearing the young man’s account, the consul decided to carry out a secret enquiry. The Senate was deeply troubled, fearing that the sect was a cover for a plot against the Roman republic. It charged its consuls to speak against the bacchanals’ night-time sacrifices, to reward informers and to prevent the initiated from gathering.
The ‘scandal of the bacchanals’ (186 BC) led to a repression of the cult, with around 7000 of those involved condemned to death. A prophetess from the Campania region was said to have organised with her followers a large-scale fraud, leading to murders and extortion. The cult’s leaders were questioned; many of those attached to the movement were tortured, imprisoned or exiled. A senatus-consult banned bacchanals for almost one and a half centuries. The celebrations were reauthorized by Caesar.
COSTUMES OF THE WINE TRADES: TO EACH HIS OWN ACCESSORIES
3. “The grotesque costumes of Larmessin are famous today, thanks to the taste for graphic fantasy revived by modern artists... The principle – and the humour – of these drawings is found in the dressing of different working characters in the accessories of their profession. Some of the drawings move away from this by incorporating contemporary fashions; others are German imitations which bear witness to the popularity of such fantasy images.
Despite the Mannerist roots of his whimsical compositions, Larmessin’s invention is absolutely original to the end of the 17th century, and the success of his images is proven by their reproduction for decorative use of today.” (Le Dessin d’humour du XVIe siècle à nos jours. Exhibition catalogue for the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, 1971).
NANTES, PORT FLUVIAL ET MARITIME PROPICE AU COMMERCE DU VIN
4/ At the start of the 18th century, the city of Nantes was considered the primary port in Europe, frequented each year by some 2000 ships and other vessels. It was also the second-biggest French port, after Bordeaux, for the wine trade. Nantes diffused its exports around the region of Brittany (the Breton market absorbed half of the traffic, in strong competition with Bordeaux*), Holland and England. In parallel, and thanks to the two-way river transportation, the cities of the Loire enjoyed extensive commercial exchanges. Nantes played a central role; its “hinterland” was very large – reaching up to Orléans, the upper limit of the western winds. Its maritime port provided the Loire Basin with salt and products from the Colonies (coffee, sugar). Orléans was a stepping-stone to Paris, especially for red wines (via the Briare Canal and the Loing, a tributary of the Seine); it also connected to the East and the Lyon region. In the other direction, Nantes received much wheat from the region, as well as tuffeau stone from Anjou, wood, (white) wines, and many other goods.
* Nantes faced great competition in the Breton market from the Aquitaine wine trade. This competition went from the Bordeaux vineyards to the unloading ports, down to sales to individuals and taverns. The Brittany countryside represented the largest share of this market in the kingdom of France throughout the 18th century. The wines of Bordeaux, Bourg, Blaye and Libourne were particularly popular among Breton consumers. Large ports such as Nantes and Lorient were distribution hubs which allowed Aquitaine wines to be sent towards European and overseas markets, while the secondary ports of Redon, Vannes and Quimper were used as a kind of regional warehouse. Small Blaye, Plassac and Breton coasters brought the Bordeaux wines to Breton ports. Other distributors, both on water and on land, ensured that the wines were distributed to places where they would be consumed. (Source: Bordeaux et la Bretagne au XVIIème siècle, Les routes du vin, Hiroyasu Kimizuka, 2015, Presses universitaires de Rennes).
From left to right: A man on the ground drinking from a wine skin, F. de Goya, ca. 1812-1820, 20,5 x 14,3 cm, MET, NYC / Woman by the Grapevine, A. Renoir, ca. 1904, 26,7 x 37 cm, lithographs published by Ambroise Vollard, 1919, MoMA, NYC