August 19, 2018

Daily life: Wine as foodstuff, remedy and comfort

Taddeo Gaddi, Distribution de pain et de vin, 1340-1350 ? Eglise San Martino dei Buonimo, Florence

 

DISTRIBUTION OF BREAD AND WINE

Taddeo Gaddi (1290-1366) 

1340-1350?

San Martino dei Buonimo, Florence

 

 

Taddeo Gaddi’s fresco illustrates an act of Christian charity: the feeding of the hungry with bread and wine. Here, the wine seems to be distributed directly from the fermentation tank. A century or so later, similar scenes could be witnessed in the Hospices de Beaune, recently founded by Nicolas Rolin and his wife Guigone de Salins, where there was a daily distribution of victuals to the poor. Wine was recognized as a staple foodstuff, as it helped to keep drinkers warm in winter and cool in summer. But it was so much more than a mere drink: it was seen as a tonic, a valuable source of energy and even vital minerals. As the water of the Middle Ages was barely drinkable, it was necessary to mix it with wine (and not the opposite, as in our childhoods!).

FOODSTUFF

THE SEVEN WORKS OF MERCY, TENDING THE THIRSTY
Master of Alkmaar, 1504 - Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam / 1
THE BEANEATER
Annibale Carracci, 1584-1585 - Galleria Colonna, Rome / 2
SENSE OF TASTE, Jusepe de Ribera
1613-1616 - Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CO, United States / 3
PEASANT FAMILY IN AN INTERIOR (FAMILLE DE PAYSANS DANS UN INTÉRIEUR) Frères Le Nain, ca. 1640 - Musée du Louvre, Paris / 4
AN OLD WOMAN COOKING EGGS
Diego Velázquez, 1618 - National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, UK / 5
LUNCHEON
Diego Velázquez, ca. 1617 - The State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia
THE MEAL OF THE POOR (LE REPAS DES PAUVRES)
Alphonse Legros, 1877 - National Gallery, Londres / 7
THE MEAL (DE MAALTIJD)
Henri De Braekeleer, 1885 - KMSKA, Antwerpen, Belgium
THE OYSTER EATER (LA MANGEUSE D'HUÎTRES)
James Ensor, 1882 - Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp, Belgium / 9
INTERIOR OF A RESTAURANT IN ARLES (INTÉRIEUR D'UN RESTAURANT A ARLES) Van Gogh, 1888 - Private collection / 10
THE MEAL (LE REPAS)
Pierre Bonnard, ca. 1927 - Museum of Modern Art, New York
THE SITTING DRINKER (LE BUVEUR ASSIS)
Bernard Buffet, 1948 - Musée d'art moderne de la ville de Paris

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1/ Almost one hundred years after Taddeo Gaddi’s illustration of Christian charity, the same theme is taken up by other artists. Six primary Christian acts are listed by Matthew in the Parable of the Day of Judgement: “feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit those in prison” (additional instructions to “bury the dead” would appear in the 12th century). In Catholic theology, acts of mercy or donations to charity can act as a penance. After Luther, many Protestant thinkers criticized the notion of ‘buying salvation’ through gifts to the Church: they believed that everything had already been decided, and that no act of charity would save those who were not destined for salvation. 

 

2/ Annibal Carrache was one of the first great masters to show an interest in genre scenes. In The Bean Eater, it is clear that wine had become a part of daily peasant life by the end of the 16th century. The scene is probably set in a cabaret.

 

3/ The title of Ribera’s painting – Sense of Taste – is misleading.  

4/ In this work by the Le Nain brothers, we enter the peasants’ home and catch one of the householders with a glass of red wine (Peasant Family in an Interior). These country workers are “decently dressed and shod”. They are not badly-off, and drink wine every day.

5/ From the 17th century to the first half of the 20th century, wine became a key element in family meals. It plays a role in this meal being prepared by this Old Woman Cooking Eggs.

 

7/ Alphonse Legros’s The Meal of the Poor gives us a complete change of scene. The artist lived for a time in London, where wine was considered a refreshing tonic. The price of wine had fallen drastically, and it was served with the most modest meals.

 

9/  This Oyster Eater is one of the snapshots from the life of the small-town bourgeoisie painted by James Ensor. It was his intention to enter it in the 1882 edition of the three-yearly art exhibition in Antwerp, but the organizers rejected it. They considered this work was too much unconventional and provocative. In its day, this seemingly innocent scene caused quite a stir. To many, the image of a woman enjoying the good things in life - fine wine and oysters - was inappropriate, all the more so as oysters were seen as an aphrodisiac. (Source: KMSKA, Antwerp)

 

10/ Van Gogh depicts the ‘workers’ restaurant’ of the Hôtel Carrel, where he had lodged before moving to the famous ‘yellow house’. There was a single set menu, wine included.

REMEDY

BIRTH OF St JOHN THE BAPTIST, Domenico Ghirlandaio
1486-1490 - Santa Maria Novella, Florence, Italy / 1
BIRTH OF HENRY IV (replica)
Joseph Devéria, 1827
SELF-PORTRAIT WITH Dr. ARRIETA, Francisco de Goya
1820 - Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MN, United States / 3
LOUIS PASTEUR
Albert Edelfelt, 1885 - Musée d'Orsay, Paris / 4
THE PATIENT
Félix Valloton, 1892 - Private collection / 5
MY DOCTOR, WINE? (MON DOCTEUR LE VIN)
R. Dufy, 1936 - Mon Docteur le vin, Gaston Derys, Yale Univ. Press / 6

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Wine has always been considered good for the health. Hippocrates, Greek father of modern medicine, considered that “wine is an appropriate article for mankind, both for the healthy body and for the ailing man.” In the 13th century, Arnaud de Villeneuve was happy to observe that “wine is marvellous for melancholics, colerics and cardiac cases, and for those with liver, bladder, circulation and especially artery problems. It relieves brutal rises in temperature.”

1/ In his Birth of Saint John the Baptist, fashionably painted in a contemporary setting, Domenico Ghirlandaio shows that young mothers were given wine after childbirth.  The Renaissance art historian and painter Giorgio Vasari describes the work in his famous Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects, considered the first modern European art history book: “While Saint Elizabeth is in bed being visited by neighbours, the wet-nurse feeding the child, a woman gaily asks to hold him, to show to the others the fruit of Elizabeth’s old age. We can see a pretty country girl bringing in fruit and wine, according to Florentine custom.” The wine was supposed to replace lost blood and cleanse organs damaged by childbirth. This practice lasted until the 19th century. In the Valais region, the ‘cure’ continued until the ‘relevailles’ ceremony, a Catholic blessing given to new mothers by a priest. A kind of purification act, it was derived from a Jewish custom whereby mothers would come to the temple forty days after giving birth to a son (eighty days for a daughter).

2/ Henri d’Albret wanted his daughter to produce a male heir. In line with tradition, The Birth of Henri IV shows the future French king being placed into his grandfather’s arms and presented to the Court. One of the courtesans is shown holding a tray with a small bottle of Jurançon wine and a clove of garlic. He takes the baby into his chamber, rubbing the garlic against the newborn’s lips and making him breathe in the wine. The ‘Béarnaise baptism’ was a widespread tradition ; the wine was thought to prevent illness and the garlic was believed to keep away evil spirits. This type of blessing at royal births lasted for centuries. 

 

3/ At the start of the 19th century, wine was considered “a tonic, a very powerful cordial” (Littré, 1801). In his Self-Portrait with Doctor Arrieta, a gravely ill Goya takes a remedy from his friend, a doctor. It appears to be a glass of wine, probably sherry.

4/ By 1863, the French wine trade was suffering badly from an outbreak of disease in the crop. The English complained to Napoleon III, who tasked Louis Pasteur with investigating the problem. A specialist in the processes of fermentation and putrefaction, Pasteur moved his laboratory to Arbois, in the wine-producing Jura region. He shared his conclusions with the Académie des Sciences in 1865, affirming that “wine is the most healthful and most hygienic of beverages.” Pasteur’s report was published by the Imperial Press in 1866, under the title of Studies on Wine. Until recently, wine was often prescribed by medical professionals. 

 

5/ It is for this reason that we can see a litre of white wine alongside a carafe of water and a phial of medicine on the nightstand of Félix Valloton’s The Patient. She is Valloton’s mistress, who suffered from severe migraines.

6/ Gaston Derys’ book My Doctor, Wine? extols the many joys and benefits of wine through comments of French doctors*. Many watercolours by Raoul Dufy are used to illustrate this defence of wine as remedy. Here we are in the hospital. A nursing sister of yesteryear enters the flower-filled room carrying a tray, on which is placed a bottle of champagne. Too good to be true? The painting features in a chapter describing the benefits of wine in convalescence. A professor said: "Many patients, convalescents, and sufferers from exhaustion who stuff themselves with pills, powders, and tablets would find an old Bordeaux to be a faster remedy to recuperate their strength." In another chapter, several doctors were interviewed about obesity. One of them wrote that "wine is a treatment for obesity...  Water tends to thicken the flesh. Indeed, fat is formed and intervenes in water drinkers, to neutralize the poisons deriving from food that are not destroyed by internal secretions... The wine augments the body's defences, allowing a stronger resistance to autointoxication, depression, and obesity." !*


* Published in English by Yale University Press, 2003 (French text originally published in 1936, during the viticulture crisis). Gaston Derys is a pseudonym for Gaston Colomb, who, under many aliases, was a prolific writer and well-known French gastronome.

** Today, the discussion has become more precise and scientific. But is it any less controversial? A former hospital practitioner has not only declared red wine an effective protection against cardiovascular disease – adding that abstinence is actually harmful – but also that it helps to prevent arteriosclerosis, being a powerful antioxidant and vasodilator. Red wine is said to be especially good for the circulation: lab tests have shown the polyphenol extracts of red wine may work in cases where prescription anticoagulants have little effect. It is also thought, among other things, to combat hypertension and to reduce damage to the myocardium and aorta by extending the life of the heart and arteries’ muscle cells. Regular, moderate red wine consumption is linked to a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Last but not least, as red wine allows for longer cell life, it even possesses ‘anti-cancer properties’! Too good to be true? Judge for yourself: just remember that, as these very doctors might say, alcohol is to be enjoyed in moderation…

COMFORT

THE FLOOR SCRAPERS (RABOTEURS DE PARQUET)
Gustave Caillebotte, 1875 - Musée d'Orsay, Paris / 1
WOMEN IRONING (LES REPASSEUSES)
Edgar Degas , ca. 1884-1886 - Musée d'Orsay, Paris / 2
THESE LADIES IN THE REFECTORY (CES DAMES AU RÉFECTOIRE)
H. de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1893-1894 - Szépmuvészeti Muz., Budapest /3

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1-2. Although the theme of working life in painting was well-established in Holland as far back as the 17th century, this was not the case in France, where the topic was considered unworthy. It was not until the 18th century that painters began to portray unromanticised labouring scenes. It was also during this period that cheap red wines began to make their way into the market. They were consumed by labourers at work, as a refreshment, a tonic, and an encouragement. Both male and female workers drank wine in this way, be they Gustave Caillebotte’s The Floor Scrapers or Edgar Degas’ Women Ironing. Shown in the middle of the working day, the two exhausted laundry workers reflect the unromantic but tender attitude of the artist towards his working-class subjects. The image is incisive, but unpitying. Gestures emerge with a rare expressive force implying immediacy – the woman on the left yawns and stretches, holding in her hand a bottle of wine, while her colleague hunches doggedly over her work. 

3. Toulouse-Lautrec conjured up similar themes in his portrayals of women. A regular of the brothels of Montmartre, Toulouse-Lautrec had lodgings at La Fleur Blanche. This permitted him to capture similar stress and exhaustion in the women of These Ladies in the Refectory, set in the prostitutes’ dining room. A bottle, given by the madam of the house, was intended to restore the girls’ enthusiasm for their work!

‘Comforting’ wine was also given to the poilus, French soldiers of the First World War. Wine imagery from this period is almost non-existent, and usually of very poor quality – even those images made to a commercial aim (by alcohol manufacturers), are very much below par. Nevertheless, there still exist some good-quality posters, photographs, drawings and engravings from this time.

 

Explore the posters >>

FOODSTUFF, REMEDY, AND COMFORT IN MEDIEVAL ILLUMINATIONS

FARMER'S MEAL (REPAS PAYSAN)
Livre du roi Modus et de la reine Ratio, 1401-1450 - BnF, Paris
SNACK WITH GLASS OF WINE AND FRUITS
Heures de Charles d'Angoulême, ca. 1490 - BnF, Paris
WHITE WINE IS A  FOODSTUFF
Tacuinum Sanitatis, 14th century
THE BIRTH OF St JOHN THE BAPTIST
Les Très Belles Heures de Notre Dame de Jean de Berry, ca. 1420
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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.

 

Find out more: Wine in Illuminations, From Drinking to Savoir-boire >>

WINE AND THE ARTS: GRAPHICS, TAPESTRY, AND PHOTOGRAPHY

A MAN DRINKING FROM A WINESKIN
Francisco de Goya, ca. 1812-1820 - The Met, New York
WINE AND WEAPONS
Bayeux Tapestry, pannel 37 - Bayeux, France
LA TABLE SERVIE (STILL LIFE)
Nicolas Niepce, 1823-1825 or 1832? Physautotype
CHAMPAGNE WINEGROWER IN MARNE
Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1960 - Private collection
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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: Goya’s A Man Drinking from a Wineskin (ink drawing); a section from the Bayeux Tapestry showing William the Conqueror’s invasion of England; La Table Servie, Niepce’s second photograph; and the photo-portrait of a Champagne Wine-Grower in Marne by Cartier-Bresson.

Discover Wine and the Arts  >>

GALLERIES AN EVERYDAY COMPANION

Foodstuff, Remedy, Comfort
Family Life
Cafés
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