"For love of everything that is wine"



A subject dear to my fanciful heart, I have long been interested in examining wine and its place in images, both in pictoral and sculptoral form. Like classical music, I tend to look upon wine when accompanied by other creative mediums in very sympathetic terms. This is probably because wine and artistry seems to go hand in hand, as the former is, in itself, a form of 'consumptive creativity.'

On this webpage then, it is my intention to explore some of the ways in which certain artists and their works are able to capture the creative finery espoused by the 'institution of wine.' I have little doubt that this exercise ought to yield some fantastic rewards.


To the benefit of posterity, it does seem clear that various peoples – in this case, artists and craftspersons – of ancient times (such as those of 'Greece' and Rome) were engaged in the representation of wine as a creative, artistic form. This can be most visibly seen via the mediums of images by which wine was presented on pottery, statues/sculptures, and images. Let us examine these mediums:
  • Pottery --- Of all the ancient civilizations of human history, it would appear that those of 'Greece' carry some of the most prestigious legacies of pottery design. Left behind in wonderful scores, many of these works detail the esteem with which the ancient Greeks seem to have held the enjoyment of wine. Perhaps the most notable of these wine-related pottery images are those illustrating the practice of the 'symposium,' which, in a nutshell, was a light-night wine drinking party (beginning around the fifth century BCE) usually involving philosophical discussion. On the pottery image to the right, two participants can be seen reclining on sofas, with the one on the very right drinking wine from a cup called a 'cylix.' On the left, a slave can be seen pouring wine into a cylix from the main bowl, which was called a 'krater.' As one can clearly see, these images were done by an artist of notable skill, who was undoubtedly aware that his customers, no doubt wealthier individuals, were interested in procuring pottery wares with images fancily depicting scenes involving wine on them.
  • Statues/Scuptures --- Generally speaking, though most of the famous white marble statues resting in the world's greatest museums had been created in Roman times, most were (believe it or not) actually copies of Greek originals. Of these, there are a good number of statues that depict the most famous 'wine god' to have (arguably) ever existed: Bacchus (or Dionysus, in Greek). Even more than the Greeks, the Romans were very much of a wine-drinking culture, with their actual consumption of wine (in terms of quality) based on an extremely class-driven hierarchy. To the right, a second-century CE statue of Bacchus can be seen with a bunch of grapes in one hand and a cup in another, dignified and youthful. To the left, a wall-sculpture of the wine-god illustrates a much different version, in which Bacchus is shown in a truly frenzied-like state. And yet, despite the differences in the two works, one can clearly see that an incredible level of skill was required in the actual creation of these magnificent pieces.
  • Images --- Throughout the ancient world (dating back to even the earliest of prehistoric times), modern archaeologists have been fortunate enough to happen upon all sorts of paintings related to wine. Among the more interesting of such items are those that have been uncovered in the ruins of Pompeii (which was burried in the erruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE and rediscovered in 1748). For instance, the image to the right comes from one of the walls of "The House of Vetti," and it shows several Cupids engaged in various steps of making wine. It is quite a beautiful picture.


These days, among modern scholars and amateur enthusiasts of art, alike, there is an ever-increasing realization that the works of art created during the so-called 'Middle Ages' (or 'Medieval Period') of human history – though seemingly 'underdeveloped' and/or 'reductive in technical skill' at first glance – boast all sorts of extraordinary significances.

Concerning our present subject of examining wine and art, the Middle Ages offers several fascinating examples of the extent to which various peoples centuries ago held the importance of wine. Once again, let us review some of the mediums under which artistic images of wine were created:
  • Images of monks and wine --- Throughout the Middle Ages (c. 400-1400 CE), modern scholars have come to realize that monastic orders were among the most important groups engaged in the cultivation of wine. And, though scarce, we have several images dating back to this period. Dating from the 13th century, the image to the right shows a Benedictine monk engaged in the partaking of a few jugs (monks were well known to be liberal drinkers).
  • Images of peasants and wine --- To this day, many scholars would argue there is a sort-of 'peasant mentality' when it comes to the craft of viticulture and winemaking. From the Middle Ages, we have many images depicting peasants engaged in winegrowing (and winemaking) activities.


Throughout the Renaissance (c. 1350-1600), artistic creativity had achieved heights which had never – and have never since – been realized. Concerning wine, of the many brilliant works created in this period, we are able to discover an exquisite collection of works illustrating the level of regard with which 'the institution of wine' had been held.

Now, because there is such an extraordinary amount of material to examine from this period, it is necessary for us to confine our analysis to very specific mediums, from paintings (on a canvas) to sculptoral design. Thus, if I, the author, have left anything out, please keep in mind that it was not unintentional but unavoidable.
  • Wine and paintings --- At the height of the Renaissance, the human ability to paint had reached (at least in the eyes of many modern art scholars) a sort of climax that has never since been repeated. Granted, only a tiny percentage of Renaissance paintings relate specifically to wine; and yet those that incorporate wine into their totality are, quite frankly, truly brilliant marvels. Above, we see a painting of Michelangelo, done on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. A sight for sore eyes, the people of the Renaissance realized both the merits and potential downfalls that wine can bring, not so dissimilar from today.
  • Wine and frescos --- Although it is not exactly a simple task to locate them, the Renaissance has left us many examples of wine being included as a component on frescos. As expected, the majority of such illustrations can be found in churches. On the right is a scene from The Life of Christ painted by Giotto at the Arena Chapel in Padua. Begun in 1305, this particular image illustrates The Marriage at Cana, where Christ is said to have miraculously transformed water into wine. Reasonably enough, we can infer from this image that the people of the Renaissance age were accustomed to the notion of having wine with a meal (instead of water, which would often have been contaminated).


An enormous period to cover, to say the least, the Early Modern Period (c. 1500-1800, taking overlap into serious account) can be one of the most fascinating periods to examine when looking at the inseparable relationship between wine and art.

All over Europe (particularly in the Low Countries), artists were exploring seemingly-brand-new approaches to interpreting the world in which they lived, breaking away from purely religious (and, associatively, oftentimes political) depictions to portraying persons and events in more personalized, realistic fashions (*though what I have just stated here will undoubtedly be chewed up and spat out by far greater experts on art in the Early Modern Period than I ... I just love wine ... cut me a break!*).
  • Joannes Vermeer (1632-1675) --- By the time Vermeer got to painting, real-life (often domestic) depictions seem to have been a popular theme. Seen in the painting above-right, wine was most definitely the drink of choice (along with beer) for a typical middle class household of, in this case, Holland. From this image, it would seem that the woman is sitting down to an afternoon meal, encouraged to drink her wine by the male, who is perhaps a lover (after all, a few drinks can lead to 'naughty things'). Notice that the wine appears to be white, served in a very small glass? An apéritif, perhaps?



From the looks of things, artists of the nineteenth century (particularly in the latter decades) had few reservations about incorporating all things related to wine in their artistic endeavors. A (personally) favourite period of mine, the many wine-related artistic works of the late-nineteenth century seem to confirm the extent to which wine and art are, at least in my mind, fundamentally inseparable institutions.


Because there are so many wine-and-art paintings, it would probably be best if this particular portion of my webpage is divided by artists. That way, we can see if there are any noteworthy features (such as themes, commonalities, and styles) to each artist's incorporation of wine into their works. Here are a few of the artists whose wine-inclusive paintings I have come across (at least thus far):
  • Édouard Manet (1832-1883) --- As shown in the painting above-right, Manet had few qualms about incorporating wine into his paintings. In the image above, I would argue that the glass of wine is meant to add weight to a convivial and a care-free atmosphere. Notice that the wine the man is drinking is white and not red? Was this done on purpose? For whatever reason Manet had in mind, a cool glass of white wine - enjoyed in an outside café on a lovely day - imparts (at least in this painting, it would seem) a mood of relaxation and joviality, as a man and a woman smile at one another, without a care in the world.



In the twenty-first century, the association of wine and art has arguably become a recognized institution unto itself. On an ever-increasing scale, wineries (not to mention modern-day artists) have come to wholly embrace the notion that wine and art are virtually inseparable. Put simply, long gone are the days when Pauillac estate Château Mouton-Rothschild was practically the only world-renowned winery to employ artists in the promotion of its wines. These days, there are scores of high-profile wineries who commission artists (most of which, by the way, are only too happy to oblige) to promote their wines.

 To continue, because the proliferation of wine-art works in the twenty-first century has been so enormous, it is all but impossible for me to offer a proper summerization of it as a whole on a single webpage. And yet, I will do my best to attempt to identify the different establishments (ex. wineries) and individual persons who have made the greatest impact on wine and art in modern times.
  • Wine and Art at Château Mouton-Rothschild --- For wine enthusiasts, there is no other winery in the world that is better known (at least historically) for combining wine with art than Château Mouton-Rothschild. Since 1945, when the first artist-designed label was done by Philippe Jullian (as shown above-right), the Mouton estate has commissioned a different artist every year to design the label for their 'Grand Vin.' Able to attract the some of the most famous artists of the day, many of the Mouton labels are as every bit thought-provoking as they are brilliant. The first 1945 label (above-left) was done to commemorate the conclusion of the world's most deadliest war (it just so happened to be a huge bonus that '45 proved to be one of the finest vintages of the twentieth century).



Email me at julianhitner@hitnerwine.com


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