Wine and the vine in Tapestry
DID WINE HELP WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR WIN AT HASTINGS?
1. The Bayeux Tapestry is not, strictly speaking, a ‘tapestry’: rather, it is a piece of embroidery made from wool, dyed with nine natural colors, on pieces of brown linen. It was made to be hung in Bayeux Cathedral, for the benefit of a largely illiterate population.
The Bayeux Tapestry is made up of nine linen panels, and measures around 68.3m by 50.3cm. Each scene is accompanied by a commentary in Latin. A total of 1515 subjects (people, animals, buildings and trees) furnish the audience with a mine of information about the 11th century.
The large quantities of wine brought on the journey saved William from dysentery during the whole month of October (the Battle of Hastings itself took place on the 14th). When the wine finally ran short in the two first weeks of November, half of the Duke’s men – and William himself – were struck down with fever after drinking the water of the marshy Hastings region. What would have become of the Norman victory if they had not brought so much wine?
BLOOD OF THE VINE AND BLOOD OF CHRIST
2. For Christians, it took the coming of Christ to erase the sins of mankind’s first patriarch. Jesus of Nazareth introduced himself to his disciples with the words: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman,” and continues: “I am the vine, ye are the branches” (John 15:1-5). The first Christians often depicted bunches of grapes and chalices – widespread primitive Christian symbols – in baptistery (ceiling) or pavement (floor) mosaics. Latin poets and the Early Church Fathers explained the metaphor. Such imagery then spread in pictorial art throughout Europe, and was linked to the theme of the ‘mystical bath’, taken in the blood of Christ, himself the ‘Fountain of virtue, grace and life’.
The mystical winepress (in Latin, torculus Christi) is an allegorical theme in Christian iconography, an image of the Chuch where Christ is represented as part of a bunch of grapes crushed in a winepress during the Passion, his blood and the grape juice becoming one and the same. He is shown kneeling or lying between the screws of the press, or treading the grapes while carrying his cross: “Christ treads the grapes, and the blood streaming from his injuries mixes with the wine bursting from the grapes...” This Medieval image complements the image of the vine already present in paleo-Christian iconography.
BACCHUS REPRESENTS AUTUMN
3. The third of a series of four tapestries illustrating the life of man divided into twelve six-year periods, this tapestry shows Bacchus at the centre, representing the ‘autumn years’. July, August and September represent the ages 36 to 54. The stories show the centaur Chiron teaching medicine to the young Aesculapius; Joseph directing the gathering of the harvest in anticipation of the lean years to come; and Hercules gathering the golden apples of the Hesperides, the last of his twelve labors (Source The Metropolitan).
BACCHUS CELEBRATES THE SUN KING
4. In the 17th century, representations of the four seasons were popular in royal palaces because the transition between the seasons was guided by the sun, which Louis XIV had adopted as an emblem. In line with contemporary tastes, each season is represented by an episode from mythology. As the harvests took place in September, Bacchus often stood for autumn – also represented by the harvest baskets and, as is the case here, Diana, goddess of the hunt. In this tapestry, Bacchus and Diana are shown sitting on clouds; they hold a floral frame containing a portrait of Louis XIV hunting a deer on horseback. The castle of Saint-Germain is shown in the background; in the foreground, several objects illustrate the autumn season. A ring of laurel leaves makes up the horizontal part of the border; the vertical borders contain a flower and fruits motif, interrupted halfway by the heraldic arms of France and Navarre (source: base Joconde).
THE JOYFUL COMPANY: A FAVORITE SUBJECT IN 17TH-CENTURY HOLLAND
5. In the 17th century, the role of wine in seduction was a popular subject for many Dutch painters. Dirck Hals, Gerrit Van Honthorst and Jan Steen all represent the association between wine and love. Such is the approach of the weavers of this tapestry. Such images are also used to celebrate the senses (a popular theme in Classical art), which are represented by this scene of a joyful company. If wine and the grape represent the sense of taste, the sense of sight is shown through the fleeting glance shared by the lovers.
A COCKEREL TREADS THE GRAPES
6. For the inauguration of the Beaune wine museum in 1949, the town commissioned a tapestry by Jean Lurçat. “This tapestry conveys the style of Lurçat, which is exuberant and lively,” explains Laure Ménétrier, chief of the region’s museums. “It shows us a fantasy world, brimming with detail. The artist explores eternal life through nature… A cockerel makes an appearance, as in many of Jean Lurçat’s tapestries. Here, it is shown treading red grapes.” (source: Bien Public).
The cockerel allows Lurçat to experiment with a wide range of colors. "No, no, it’s not a mania. Familiar themes always have hidden meanings, concealing obligations or obsessions. That said, I have always been seduced by the virility and life that shines out from this animal, whose ambition is to wake humans, to make the sun rise, to herald the break of day, and…isn’t that enough to inspire a painter? Day, life, action…” (Jean Lurçat, lettre à un ami, février, 1956).