Quick Tour: 30 works to awaken your appetite

DIONYSUS AS A CHILD AND HIS MOTHER SEMELE (in the foreground) 70-60 B.C., Roman fresco (detail) after restoration - Villa dei Misteri, Pompeii

press to zoom

WINE AND THE ARTS

It is universally acknowledged today that wine is a major part of human culture. Since the very beginning of winemaking, around 6000BC, wine has played an important role in many civilisations. The Muses’ companion, wine is present across the arts, an essential witness to our social and cultural history. Some distance from Pompeii, the Villa of Mysteries was once a doctor’s house. In the masters’ quarters, a room holds the newly-restored fresco to which the villa owes its fame: rolled out on a large frieze are twenty nine life-size characters, set against on a Pompeian-red background. This fresco might represent the initiation of a young bride to Dionysian mysteries; here the ritual is read by a child who might be Dionysus himself. The cult of Dionysus, of which the mistress of the house would have been a priestess, was very popular in Southern Italy at the time.

 

Explore the Galleries >> 

HARVEST From a former Benedictine abbey church in Moutiers-St Jean (France) Demolished in the 19th cent., ca. 1125 - Musée du Louvre, Paris

press to zoom

UNTITLED #224 Cindy Sherman, 1990, Chromogenic color print – MoMA, New York

press to zoom

PAINTING

BACCHUS AND ARIADNE Titian, 1520-1522 – National Gallery, London

press to zoom

Greco-Latin mythology has long been the basis of much of mankind’s cultural heritage. Since the earliest days of Antiquity, wine and religion have been closely connected. Wine has been, and remains, an important element of ritual and sacrificial practices. In Ancient Greece, it was both the object of a cult and a symbol of culture. Upon arrival on the island of Naxos, Bacchus consoled and then married Ariadne, abandoned by Thesius, and gave her a gold crown, Vulcan’s masterpiece: ‘“I am she to whom you used to promise the heavens. Ah me, what a reward I suffer instead of heaven!” He embraced her, and dried her tears with kisses, and said: “Together, let us seek the depths of the sky! You’ll share my name just as you’ve shared my bed…”

Explore the Galleries >> 

THE MISFORTUNES OF SILENIUS Piero di Cosimo, ca. 1500 - Fogg Art Museum, Harvard, Cambridge, MA., United States

press to zoom

THE ANDRIANS Titian, 1523-1526 - Museo del Prado, Madrid

press to zoom

LOT AND HIS DAUGHTERS Jan Massys, 1565 - Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels

press to zoom

Wine is mentioned 173 times in the Old Testament, and the vine 114 times. Wine adopts many guises and often wreaks havoc. It takes control of individuals, throws down obstacles and trips them up. It enables debauchery, murder and deception: a drunken Noah strips naked; Absalom intoxicates Amnon in order to kill him; Lot’s daughters ply their father with wine and then seduce him; Belshazzar serves wine to his guests in sacred vases, stolen from the Temple of Jerusalem by his father Nebuchadnezzar II. Only in the profane Song of Songs does the tone become more positive, with the beloved’s affirmation: “Thy love is better than wine”.

Explore the Galleries >> 

BELSHAZZAR’S FEAST Harmenszoon van Rijn Rembrandt, 1635 - National Gallery, London

press to zoom

THE SONG OF SONGS VI (detail) Marc Chagall, 1960, Marc Chagall National Museum, Nice, France

press to zoom

SCENES FROM THE LIFE OF CHRIST: Marriage at Cana Giotto di Bondone, 1304-06 - Cappella degli Scrovegni, Padova, Italy

press to zoom

The principal references to wine and the vine in the New Testament start with the Wedding at Cana and end with the Apocalypse, and include the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, the Last Supper and the Supper at Emmaus. Although the theme of ‘the mystical winepress’ is not cited in the Bible, this image refers directly to the blood of Christ. In his Story of Wine, Hugh Johnson highlights the fact that many accounts confirm the influence of the cult of Bacchus: “Bacchus-Dionysus was already considered a saviour – to rise from the dead was normal for the old gods, while to eat a god’s body and drink his blood (represented by wine) was a familiar concept to the Ancient Greeks who believed in the myth of Orpheus. The grape, to the Ancient Greeks an attribute of Dionysus, was to become a symbol of the blood of Christ for the Eucharist.”

Explore the Galleries >> 

LAST SUPPER Tintoretto, 1559 - Saint François-Xavier Church, Paris

press to zoom

SUPPER AT EMMAUS Titian, ca. 1530 – Musée du Louvre, Paris

press to zoom

WOMEN IRONING Edgard Degas, ca. 1884-1886 – Musée d’Orsay, Paris

press to zoom

For a long time, wine was considered a foodstuff. It restored invalids, boosted workers’ morale (as shown here) and accompanied family meals. In many families, mealtimes could go on for hours. After the meal, members of the family would sit around the uncleared table and discuss old times in a relaxed, unpretentious atmosphere. At the other end of the social scale, a crystal carafe on the table was seen as an important mark of prosperity for bourgeois households, even in an intimate family setting. In such households, the family would take their coffee in the drawing-room or smoking-room while the domestics cleared the table. For those without a family to go home to, cafés provided a sort of substitute family and a way of killing time.

Explore the Galleries >> 

WOMAN WITH A CHILD IN A PANTRY Pieter de Hooch, ca. 1656 -1660 – Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

press to zoom

THE NIGHT CAFÉ (LE CAFÉ DE NUIT) Vincent Van Gogh, 1888 - Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CO, United States

press to zoom

THE FIGHT BETWEEN CARNIVAL AND LENT Pieter Brueghel the Elder, 1559 - Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria

press to zoom

Wine as a way of life – and as a way of living well – captures the artistic imagination. Wine has always “gladdened the hearts of men” (Psalm 104, 15). Associated with friendship, love, celebration and even politics, wine is a part of social life. Peter Brueghel the Elder is considered one of the greatest Flemish ‘genre’ painters of the sixteenth century. He was a perceptive observer of colorful countryside traditions. Religious festivals were used as a pretext for celebration, as such events allowed the peasants to forget daily hardships. This scene of country mores uses a staged fight to caricature those who are still celebrating Carnival and those who have already started Lent. 

Explore the Galleries >> 

THE GLASS OF WINE or A LADY DRINKING AND A GENTLEMAN Vermeer, ca. 1658-1660 - Gemäldegalerie, Berlin

press to zoom

LUNCHEON OF THE BOATING PARTY Renoir, 1880-1881 – Phillips Collection, Washington

press to zoom

A RAKE’S PROGRESS III: THE ORGY William Hogarth, 1733 - Sir John Soane's Museum, London

press to zoom

From cheerful inebriety to all-out drunkenness, some artists have used wine to convey a message: from the 15th to the 17th century, to condemn wine-drinking in the name of morality; in the 18th century, to celebrate or denounce the lifestyles of the social elite; and in the 19th century, to remind us that drunkenness can lead to alcoholism. At the other end of the spectrum, the concept of ‘good taste’ was reinvented and the end of the 17th century. The few paintings which represent the pleasure of wine connoisseurs were produced in the 18th century. ‘Good taste’ was no longer the preserve of the aristocracy, but could also be enjoyed by the bourgeoisie. Connoisseurs would taste different wines, exchanging their impressions and searching for the right words to describe its color and aroma.

Explore the Galleries >> 

THE SENSES OF HEARING, TOUCH AND TASTE (detail) Jan Brueghel the Elder, 1618 - Museo del Prado, Madrid

press to zoom

THE WINE CONNOISSEURS Jacob Duck, ca. 1640-42 – Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

press to zoom

THE VINEYARDS AT CAGNES Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1908 – The Brooklyn Museum, New York

press to zoom

The product of a whole year’s hard work in the vineyard, the grape harvest is a key moment in the calendar. The date must be chosen wisely: after all, “we reap what we sow”. The harvest was a time of great festivities. The 18th century was marked by the growth of maritime trade. The Port of Marseille is one of a number of paintings of French ports by Vernet, commissioned by Louis XV to represent the activities specific to each region. Marseille, which by 1720 had recovered from the demographic disaster of the Plague, was (like Bordeaux) one of the great international trading ports of France. The barrels shown here attest to Marseille’s trading links with the Mediterranean basin. 

Explore the Galleries >> 

THE GREEN VINEYARD Vincent Van Gogh, 1888 - Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, The Netherlands

press to zoom

THE PORT OF FRANCE, MARSEILLE (INTERIOR) Claude-Joseph Vernet, 1754 – Musée de la Marine, Paris

press to zoom

NATURE MORTE AUX HUÎTRES, A LA COUPE EN ARGENT ET AU VERRE W-C. Heda, 1635 - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

press to zoom

As though to prove the importance of wine and the vine in art, many artists have given these elements pride of place in still life compositions, whether symbolic or decorative. This dates back to Antiquity, as shown by the vine and grape motifs in mosaics and frescoes unearthed in the Vesuvius region of Italy. Still life began to emerge as a definable genre at the end of the sixteenth century. It would explode in popularity during the seventeenth century. Certain 17th-century works bear witness to contemporary dietary habits and beliefs. In the 18th century, such paintings were largely decorative; but by the 19th century, still life paintings were considered essentially documentary. In the 20th century, artworks of this type – whether futurist, cubist, surrealist or hyper-realist – were seen more an extension of the artist’s personality, an expression of style and individual talent.  

Explore the Galleries >> 

THE DEAD WOLF Jean-Baptiste Oudry, 1721 – Wallace Collection, London

press to zoom

THE BOTTLE OF WINE Joan Miró, 1924 - The Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona, Spain

press to zoom

NOAH LOKING AFTER HIS VINEYARDS, THE DRUNKENNESS OF NOAH Miroir Historial, Vincent de Beauvais, 1463 - Arsenal Library, BnF, Paris

press to zoom

A pictorial technique similar to that of frescoes or miniatures, illuminations were very popular during the Middle Ages. Done by hand, illuminations decorated or illustrated texts, usually on handwritten manuscripts. Until the 12th century, manuscripts were copied out in religious settings, such as abbeys, where they were used to support prayer and meditation. From the 13th century, private artisans began to produce literature for the secular market. This was due to the greater literacy that had resulted from the growing university and administrative sectors. Illuminations can give us a lot of information on the history and place of wine in medieval society. Once more, painting plays a documentary role. The world of wine is portrayed in illuminations in much the same way as in frescoes and paintings.

Explore the Galleries >> 

LES TRÈS RICHES HEURES DU DUC DE BERRY, JANVIER (JANUARY) Limbourg Brothers, 1412-1416, - Musée Condé, Chantilly, France

press to zoom

MONKEY DRAWING WINE FROM A BARREL Pontifical, Guillaume Durand, ca. 1357 - Sainte Geneviève Library, Paris

press to zoom