Culture & Wine #5.1 Art

One does not need to be an expert on art in all its forms to understand and accept that art influences and is a reflection of any society. In fact it seems to me that art is like a “storage facility” or a culture’s collective memory through time, enabling us to look back at paintings, sculpture, music and literature from which we can understand different cultures or different eras of our own society.

Certainly in my own case I have learned so much from recent wine travels by visiting not only vineyards but spending time in local or related galleries and museums, including the Prado in Madrid, the Capitoline Museum in Rome, the MOMA in New York, the Denver Art Museum, Museo Ralli in Marbella, The Louvre in Paris …… with many having “specialisms” relating to a particular era or culture such as the Roman Empire at the Capitoline or the Native American Indian at Denver. Then you will find different styles of painting related to places and eras ….. Renaissance from the 14th Century in Europe, Baroque and Neoclassicism from the 17th Century, Romanticism across the 18th and 19th Centuries with Realism, Impressionism and Symbolism. The modern age has given us a plethora of styles too ……. expressionism, cubism, surrealism, abstract, pop art …… the mind boggles!

In many cases, wine as a drink and a concept has been “exhibited” as subject matter or content within a style or a specific piece of art. Here are a few examples you may be familiar with:

Bacchus, Caravaggio

The boating party is, to my untrained eye, a happy occasion with friends meeting in pleasant surroundings taking lunch together in which wine is a part. The painting of Dionysus/Bacchus by Caravaggio is one of his early works and shows Bacchus in a different “mode” than similar works where he is often depicted as vengeful and dynamic. Here Bacchus is young, calm, thoughtful even, which may have been how the person commissioning Caravaggio wanted it done. Click either of the painting titles for interesting analyses of each one.

Now here are some earlier works of art from the Egyptian, Greek and Roman eras discovered in tombs, on house frescoes, painted pottery and bronze decanters with each one featuring wine:

Tomb of Sennefer, Egypt 1410 BC, with painting of vines on the ceiling.
Dionysiac Frieze, Villa of the Mysteries Pompeii
The Dionysus Cup, 540BC Exekias, Greece
Artemis and Actaeon Bell Krater 470 BC, used for mixing wine and water

Once again just click on the link under each image to discover more detail about how the painting or piece of pottery was part of wine related culture. Here’s more from the modern era:

Wine and Words, Alan Feltus

From these few paintings and pieces of sculpture we can clearly see how culture has affected the “art of the day”. From the ancient Egyptians, through medieval Europe and to modern day, the style and content of paintings as frescoes, on canvas or on pottery has mirrored society and what that society saw as important. Values and beliefs are perhaps the strongest components of culture, but these components are shown to us through art ….. the decoration within Egyptian tombs, the fresco paintings on the walls of a Pompeii “wine bar”, the canvas commissioned by a wealthy Italian merchant, the paintings of modern artists earning a living by creating symbolic works for a particular market to earn a living. Wine has been a subject and a concept in all of these.

However, as I wrote at the beginning of this post, art also comprises literature and music, and it is literature that I will review in the next post in my Culture & Wine series. Here’s a “taste” ….. a courageous tasting note on Sherry!

The second property of your excellent sherris is the warming of the blood, which before, cold and settled, left the liver white and pale, which is the badge of pusillanimity and cowardice; but the sherris warms it, and makes it course from the inwards to the parts’ extremes.

Falstaff, Henry IV Part 2, William Shakespeare

Categories: Culture & Wine, Masterclass, Wine

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11 replies

  1. I couldn’t agree more, as you know. Art is both a reflection of culture as well as culture in its own right, intended as the intellectual achievements of human kind. Looking forward to your post on literature and I’m about to reblog another of your culture & wine posts. 🥂

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    • 🙏🙏 Are you drinking any wine these days? Not seeing any tasting notes! We still seem to be in an echo chamber 🤣

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      • I must have missed this comment somehow! Sorry for the late reply. We may have found some common ground with wine and culture, but not tasting notes and food pairings! I think I’ve moved on from “visual tasting notes” as I’m focusing more on wine, art and perception. Once I started hosting tastings they might come back though! Speaking of which, we’re trying out some wine pairings for our first event with the association so tomorrow we’ll be tasting 3 excellent wines, and we’ve got a Sauvignon Blanc from Alto Adige and a Valpolicella Superiore from Veneto on the rack. Welcome change to the “rustic” wine we received from the lumberjack! 🥂

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      • Wow, your first event, I wish you every success and look forward to news of it 👏
        Now, something that might surprise you, or perhaps not! In June 1986, just before we moved into our current house, we took our first ever holiday in Europe. It was by coach as I had doubts about driving on the wrong side of the road! It was in Austria, The Tyrol. One day we had a day trip to …… Alto Adige, over the Brenner Pass and to …….. Vipitino. We had a pasta lunch and then wandering around I walked into a wine merchant. I bought 3 different wines to bring home, according to my log book for that year: A Barbaresco, 1980 Vino da Tavola for £2.50, a Chardonnay 1985, St Michael Eppan for £1.60, and an Orvieto Classico 1985, Antinori for £1.60. What do you think of that? My tasting notes were poor even in those days too so I can’t tell you much about them. I thought the Nebbiolo too tannic and sharp for my taste, and the Chardonnay a poor substitute for a Chablis! I was biased and judgemental even in those days!

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      • Thank you 😊 wow, those wines were so cheap! You’d be hard pressed to find anything with Antinori’s name on it for that price nowadays. If I’m not mistaken, even though Italy has a long standing tradition of wine making, they took a hard hit from the spread of phylloxera and didn’t really recover until 90’s. Now Alto Adige is one of the top producers of Italian white wines. But the French do always have that certain “je ne sais quoi”!


  2. I wondered if you would include the painting by Caravaggio (my favourite painter, if such a thing is possible) and I was so glad you did. I never tire of looking at this. Glad you ended with the quote on the sherris, and in the same play (I think) Shakespeare also refers to the drink as ‘Sack’. I just opened my last bottle of a lovely Manzanilla I brought back from Spain from my last visit nearly two years ago now. I don’t normally carry alcohol home with me but I make an exception for Manzanilla as it’s difficult to get hold of in my region of the woods. Waitrose occasionally has it but it’s exceedingly expensive when they do. Great post, by the way, as usual.

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  3. Morning Dr B – wine, art, history, literature, philosophy. That’s my perfect day. Wonderful post, with some images that I haven’t met before. Thank you for sharing, and enlightening.

    Liked by 1 person


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