November 30, 2018
Wine is part of politics
LADIES CONCERT AT THE PHILHARMONIC HALL
Francesco Guardi (1712-1793)
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 honour, “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?
16 TH AND 17TH CENTURY
Unknown artist, ca. 1558/96 - National Portrait Gallery, London / 2
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1/ 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.
2/ 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.
3/ Commentary available soon
4/ "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.
18 TH AND 19TH CENTURY
P-D. Martin, 1724 - Mus. de l'Hist. de France, château de Versailles / 3
H-F-E. Philippoteaux, ca. 1850 - Revolution Museum, Vizille, France / 5
Alexandre Dufay (or Casanova),1812 - Fontainebleau Castle, France / 6
Eugène Lami, 1855 - Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon / 8
Louis Marie Baptiste Atthalin, 1832 - Musée Carnavalet, Paris
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2/ 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.
3/ 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.
4/ 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.
5/ 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 gay” (from Histoire par l’image).
6/ 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.
7/ Queen Victoria’s official visit to Paris for the Universal Exhibition of 1855 symbolised 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.
10/ 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.
11/ 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.