An Everyday Companion
AN OLD WOMAN COOKING EGGS (detail)
Diego Velázquez (1599-1660)
National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, Great-Britain
For a long time, wine was considered a foodstuff. It restored invalids, boosted workers’ morale and accompanied family meals. For many people, cafés could be a sort of substitute family, as well as a way of killing time.
BREAD AND WINE DISTRIBUTION
Francesco d'Antonio (1433-1484) ?
Oratorio dei Buonimi di San Martino, Florence, Italy
This fresco illustrates an act of Christian charity: the giving of bread to the hungry and wine to the thirsty. The wine seems to be being distributed directly from the fermentation tank. The same scene could have been captured at the Beaune Hospices, which had just been founded by the Chancellor Nicolas Rolin and his wife, Guigone de Salins. Here, there were daily donations to the poor, or pôvres. Wine was already recognized as a necessary product. It served to combat the cold in winter and as a refreshment in the summer. However, it was more than a simple drink: giver of strength and energy, wine was seen as a tonic, a valuable source of energy and even vital minerals. As water was generally undrinkable in the Middle Ages...
Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894)
The dining room of their private mansion on Rue de Mirosmesnil, the painter’s mother, Madame Martial Caillebotte, and his brother René eat a meal served by their butler. Madame Caillebotte is shown wearing mourning for her husband, who has been dead for less than two years. The three characters are almost engulfed in shadow, while the crystal glasses shimmer on the table. They form part of a Harcourt table service, created by the manufacturers Baccarat in 1841 and still sold as a luxury product today. The carafes seem to project light into the gloomy dining room in the strange new Paris of Haussman…
THE NIGHT CAFÉ (LE CAFÉ DE NUIT)
Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)
Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT, United States
Vincent Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo (August 1888): “Today I will probably start on the interior of the inn where I’m lodging...it is what we call a café de nuit (they’re common here), which stays open all night. Night-time wanderers can find a refuge – it’s an asylum – when they don’t have the means to pay for a room or are too drunk to be allowed in.” The café’s listless atmosphere and harsh gas lighting accentuate the sadness of the setting. Under the eye of the waiter, a couple and a few tired customers kill time, alone, long into the night. Bottles of wine and absinthe stand side by side. Van Gogh added, a month later: “I wanted to show that the café is a place where one can destroy oneself, go mad, commit crimes...”
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