October 25, 2018
The world of wine and the vine through the eyes of master painters
THE OYSTER LUNCH (LE DÉJEUNER D'HUÎTRES) - detail
Jean-François de Troy (1679-1752), 1734
Musée Condé, Chantilly
This painting was commissioned in 1735 by King Louis XV for the dining room of the Private Apartments of the Chateau of Versailles. This room was nicknamed the ‘hunters’ retreat’, hence the absence of women in the painting. From silver dishes, the noblemen are shown eating oysters, a fashionable dish imported from England during the 18th century. They are drinking sparkling Champagne wine, known at the time as sautebouchon. Bottled champagne had just been officially introduced following a royal warrant. Given its limited production and its high price, champagne was only available in the Royal Court and among well-to-do circles in Paris and London. Descartes speaks of this delicious white wine, “Qui mousse et brille dans le verre, / Dont les mortels ne boivent guerre / Et qu'on ne sert jamais qu'à la table des dieux / Ou des grands, pour en parler mieux, / Qui sont les seuls dieux de la terre." [“which foams and sparkles in the glass, / Which mere mortals hardly drink / And which is only served at the table of the gods / Or the great, to be precise, / Who are the only gods on Earth.”] If we find young nobles eager for novelty making merry with champagne, we also encounter traditional gourmets who do not appreciate this disconcertingly fizzy wine: “This foam, which is to the taste of some individuals, appears to connoisseurs a strange thing, quite removed from the goodness of wine”! Champagne lovers responded, in the language of the time: “This wine from Champagne has a body, an essence, a movement, a peak and a delicacy...”
In The Virtual Wine Museum, see painters celebrating wine across 604 works
These works are presented in five painting collections:
Throughout history, wine has inspired many varied representations. Artists have associated wine with the sacred as well as the profane, and with group scenes as well as more intimate experiences. There is no question here of compiling a complete history of wine and the vine, nor of presenting an exhaustive collection of artistic representations. The goal is, instead, to give an overview which explores the role of wine, whether in religion or daily life, viticulture or trade, representation in still life or illuminations; and at the same time to highlight these themes in the works of master painters, paving the way for individual exploration of the collections.
The social and cultural history of wine, and representations of the role and uses of wine in painting (from the 14th century onwards) are closely linked to the history of art as a whole.
In its early days, painting was primarily a religious art form. The Church made its presence felt in the art world from the 15th century onward, especially after the Council of Trent in 1551.
Mythological-themed paintings (in which Bacchus, formerly known as Dionysus, represents the pleasures of wine) emerged a century later, in the 16th century. Genre scenes, like oil paintings, began to appear in the Northern School during the 15th century, but they only became popular in their own right at the end of the 16th century. From this point on, genre paintings were regularly used to represent the role of wine in daily life and festivities until the Second World War. This explains why master painters tend to depict wine in everyday scenes, rather than focusing on religious representations of the ‘nectar of the gods’.
Excluding illuminations, over 25% of the paintings shown are the work of great masters (GM). Some of the artworks can be viewed to scale against period-appropriate backgrounds. These pieces may be subject to additional comments.