“In the large vats, as fat as bellies you are mixing must and intoxication,” Francesco Guccini sang in his “The twelve months song.” Harvest is a time that has inspired many an artist. It has been captured in song, but also on canvas. In the early 1400, handwritten books were already being decorated with precious miniatures, some of them depicting the propitiatory dances of harvest, like the Limbourg brothers’ Book of Hours, (of Franco-Flemish school, now displayed at the Museum Condé de Chantilly) or the pressing of the grapes in the book written in honour of king Don Manuel of Portugal in 1417.
However, it is in the 1700s and 1800s that this theme is fully expressed and developed in visual art. One of the most famous painters of all time, Francisco Goya (1786) painted “The Harvest”, one of his early masterpieces. The great artist of Aragon was commissioned by King Charles III; it was intended to adorn the Royal Palace’s dining room of El Pardo and is now housed in the famous Prado Museum in Madrid. The pyramidal structure of the scene, which culminates with the container filled with grapes, helps create a sense of elegance and harmony, highlighted by bright, saturated colours and by the protagonists’ clothing. It is with this painting, much appreciated by the enlightened aristocracy, that Goya started his career. We like to think that it is also thanks to Bacchus’s precious nectar.
Let us move a few kilometres away and a few years ahead to France, the Medoc region, 1815. The Canadian-born artist Clément Boulanger paints his “Harvest in the Médoc”, now hung in the Museum of Fine Arts in Bordeaux. A scene of everyday life caught in its “idealistic moment” and etched firmly on the canvas by the author. The same pyramidal structure, it culminates here with the farmer depicted in the act of carrying the grapes ready to be fermented. It is far removed from the ostentatious elegance of Goya’s painting (after all Boulanger did not paint for the royal court), but closer to a scene of realism, which a few years later would affect literature with the works of Goncourt and Zola in France and Verga, Capuana, Serao and Fucini in Italy.
Even the Italians, of course, joined the challenge. On the peninsula, many dedicated their art to the time of winemaking. Angelo Inganni, a painter from Brescia, in the 1800s, depicted a harvest where the palpable joy of the villagers wine making is strongly displayed. To our left people singing and dancing in front of the children, an elderly lady and a gentleman in a top hat, whilst in the background, two farmers are preparing the grapes on their way to wine making. This is almost a bacchanal scene, which reveals how wine cuts across all ages, census, and genders. Wine is democratic by nature and does not want or need to discriminate. Inganni knows this and makes it clear with his vibrant and earthy colours, which blend perfectly into the scenes of rural life.