Wine is part of politics and public life

Ladies Concert at The Philarmonic Hall, Francesco Guardi, 1782 - Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Germany | Political Life | Social Life and Life in Society | From Drinking to Savoir-boire | Wine and Painting | The Virtual Wine Museum

 

LADIES CONCERT AT THE PHILARMONIC HALL  

Francesco Guardi (1712-1793)

1782
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.

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

AS FAR AS BACK ANTIQUITY AND DURING 15TH-16TH-17TH CENTURIES

THE BANQUET OF SYPHAX Alessandro Allori 1578/82 - The Medici Ambra Villa of Poggio a Caiano, Prato, Italy / 1

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CLEOPATRA'S FEAST Jacob Jordaens, 1653 - The Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia / 2

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THE BANQUET OF CLEOPATRA Giambattista Tiepolo 1743/44 - National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia / 3

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GARDEN PARTY AT THE COURT OF PHILLIP OF BURGUNDY (FÊTE CHAMPÊTRE A LA COUR DE PHILIPPE LE BON) Unk. Master, 1410/15 - FAM, Dijon, France / 4

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FIELD OF THE CLOTH OF GOLD British School, 1545 - Royal Collection Trust, Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey, Surrey, United Kingdom / 5

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THE PORTRAIT OF SIR HENRY UNTON (detail) Unknown artist, ca. 1558/96 - National Portrait Gallery, London / 6

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BANQUET OF THE KINGS (THE ROYAL FEAST), detail Alonso Sánchez Coello, 1579 - National Museum, Warsaw, Poland / 7

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OUTDOOR BANQUET FOR HENRI IV AND HIS FAMILY Unknown artist, ca. 1619 - Fine Arts Museum, Nantes, France

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EVELYN, 1ST DUKE OF KINGSTON, CHARLES, EARL OF BURLINGTON AND JOHN, LORD BERKELEY Godfrey Kneller, 1663/97 - Private collection?

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DISCUSSING THE CELEBRATION OF LOUIS XIV'S DINNER Nicolas de Largilliere, 1689 - Hermitage, St Petersburg / 10

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BANQUET OF MEMBERS OF AMSTERDAM'S CROSSBOW CIVIC GUARD Cornelis Anthonisz, 1533 - Amsterdam Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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BANQUET OF EIGHTEEN GUARDSMEN OF SQUAD L known as THE PERCH EATERS Dirck Barendsz, 1566 - Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

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BANQUET OF THE OFFICERS OF THE CALIVERMEN CIVIC GUARD Frans Hals, 1627 - Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem, The Netherlands / 13

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BANQUET AT THE CROSSBOWMEN'S GUILD IN CELEBRATION OF THE TREATY OF MÜNSTER Barthol. van der Helst, 1648 - Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam / 14

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THE MERRY DRINKER Frans Hals, 1630 - Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands / 15

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FEAST OF THE CHAMBER OF RHETORICIANS NEAR A TOWN GATE Jan Steen, 1660s? - Private collection / 16

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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. 

 

3. 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.

4. Il s’agirait d’une copie du XVIIe siècle d’un tableau du XVIe, d’après un original du début du XVe. La scène représente d’élégants seigneurs et dames, tous vêtus de blanc, entourés de leurs serviteurs et de leurs chiens. Ils s’adonnent aux plaisirs de la collation champêtre, de la musique, de la dance et de la chasse. Derrière, une rivière, au milieu de laquelle se dresse un curieux bâtiment sur pilotis. 

Les armoiries sur les trompettes des musiciens et au-dessus de la porte du bâtiment sont celles de Philippe le Bon (duc de Bourgogne de 1419 à 1467) ou de Charles le Téméraire (de 1467 à 1477), mais les costumes correspondent plutôt à la mode des années 1410-1420. Le paysage pourrait être celui du parc du château de Hesdin en Artois où se trouvait une « Loge sur l’eau », bâtie également sur pilotis sur la Ternoise. 

 

5. In 1520, 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 of red wine in front of the King’s palace.

6. 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.

7. 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. 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.

13. 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…”

14. "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.

15. 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.

16. 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-19TH CENTURIES

QUEEN CLEOPHIS OFFERING WINE TO ALEXANDER THE GREAT AFTER HIS CONQUEST OF MAZAKA Gerard Hoet, ca. 1701? - Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

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AN ELECTION I: THE ELECTION ENTERTAINMENT William Hogarth, 1754/55 - Sir John Soane's Museum, London / 2

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BANQUET FOR ELECTOR CLEMENS AUGUST OF COLOGNE IN THE CASINO NANI School of P. Longhi, 1755 - Ca' Rezzonico, Venice / 3

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LOUIS XV'S SACRED FEAST (LE FESTIN DU SACRE DE LOUIS XV) P-D. Martin, 1724 - French History Museum, Chateau de Versailles / 4

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CELEBRATION GIVEN BY THE CITY OF PARIS ON THE OCCASION OF THE BIRTH OF THE DAUPHIN, 1782 Philibert-Louis, 1782 - Carnavalet Museum, Paris

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THE GIRONDINS' LAST MEAL (LE DERNIER BANQUET DES GIRONDINS) H-F-E. Philippoteaux, ca. 1850 - Revolution Museum, Vizille, France / 6

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THE VISIT OF NAPOLEON TO THE WINE AND BRANDY MARKET Etienne Bouhot, 1811 - Carnavalet Museum, Paris

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MARRIAGE OF NAPOLEON I AND MARIE-LOUISE' FEAST Alexandre Dufay (or Casanova),1812 - Fontainebleau Castle, France / 8

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THE CORONATION BANQUET OF KING GEORGE IV IN WESTMINTER HALL, 1821 Unknown author, ca. 1821 - Museum of London

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THE WATERLOO BANQUET 1836 William Salter, 1836 - Apsley House, London / 10

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POLITICS IN AN OYSTER HOUSE Richard Caton Woodville, 1848 The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, MD, United States

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DINNER PARTY FOR LADIES AT TUILERIES PERFORMANCE HALL-ROOM, 1835 Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-Le-Duc, c. 1835 - Carnavalet Museum, Paris

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DINNER PARTY IN VERSAILLES FOR THE QUEEN OF ENGLAND Eugène Lami, 1855 - Chateaux de Versailles et de Trianon / 13

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FORMAL FEAST AT TUILERIES PALACE DURING THE INTERNATIONAL EXPOSITION OF 1867 H. Baron, 1868 - Compiegne Palace Museum, France / 14

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POLITICAL DISCUSSION (LA DISCUSSION POLITIQUE) Emile Friant, 1889 - Private collection / 15

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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.

6. 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.

 

8. 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.

 

13. 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.

14.  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.

15. Let us draw away from these festivities and join Emile Friant who, 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.

* 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.

LOOKS CAN BE DECEIVING

Queen_Eleanor_(Frederick_Sandys,_1858).jpg

Frederick Sandys nous dépeint de façon énigmatique La Reine Aliénor devenue reine d'Angleterre suite à son mariage avec le futur Henri II (1858 - Musée national de Cardiff, Pays de Galles). La première interpétation pourrait être celle d'une dégustation de vin, mais plusieurs détails nous font en douter : Aliénor semble préoccupée, voire déterminée, et pourquoi la scène a-t-elle lieu dans les bois, au milieu de haies ? En fait, l'artiste reprend une légende noire qui a longtemps couru : celle faisant d'Aliénor la meurtrière de Rosamund Clifford, la maîtresse préférée de son mari (de trente ans plus jeune qu'elle), lui laissant, avant de l'assassiner, le choix entre la coupe de vin empoisonné et la dague. Ce qui peut expliquer sa physionomie.

Mais pourquoi dans les bois ? L’histoire traditionnelle raconte que pour cacher à Aliénor sa liaison illicite, Henri II a mis à l'abri son aimée Rosamund dans une maison qu’il a fait construire pour elle à Blenheim Park (Woodstock, Oxfordshire) habilement cachée au centre d’un labyrinthe de haies. Aliénor a été incapable d'y trouver son chemin et de découvrir ce qui s'y cachait. Mais, un jour, le roi accroche accidentellement un de ses vêtements en quittant le labyrinthe et y laisse sans le savoir un bout d'étoffe. Connaissant alors l'entrée du labyrinthe, Aliénor finira par y découvrir en son centre Rosamund dans sa maison. Elle la force alors à choisir entre le poison et la lame. 

Etait-ce plausible ? En 1173, Aliénor trame le complot qui soulève ses fils Richard, Geoffroy et Henri le Jeune contre leur père, Henri II. Cette révolte est soutenue par Louis VII, le roi d'Écosse Guillaume Ier, ainsi que les plus puissants barons anglais. Elle espère reprendre le pouvoir à Henri II et tente de rejoindre la cour de Louis VII à Paris mais est arrêtée lors du voyage par les soldats de son mari. Elle est emprisonnée pendant presque seize années, d'abord à Chinon, puis à Salisbury, et dans divers autres châteaux d'Angleterre. Elle n'a donc pas pu être à l'origine de la mort de Rosamund qui est décédée en 1176, alors qu'elle était séquestrée à Winchester !

FEAST IN HONOR OF THE KING
FEAST IN HONOR OF THE KING

FEAST AT LOUVECIENNES IN HONOR OF THE KING Jean-Michel Moreau, 1771 - Musée du Louvre, Paris

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THE KING TOASTING THE NATION
THE KING TOASTING THE NATION

THE KING TOASTING THE NATION "Louis XVI was wearing the red cap"; June 20, 1792 day

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GREAT HALL OF THE PARIS CITY HALL
GREAT HALL OF THE PARIS CITY HALL

GREAT HALL OF THE PARIS CITY HALL Banquet of the officers of the Russian Navy. French-Russian feasts at Paris, October 19, 1893

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BANQUET OF 22,500 FRENCH LORD MAYORS
BANQUET OF 22,500 FRENCH LORD MAYORS

Banquet of the 22,500 french lord-mayors at Paris, 1900

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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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