Wine is an experience, both artistic and inspirational. The precious nectar seen by ancient Greeks as a direct emanation of the Olympus gods has featured, over the centuries, in many a masterpiece. From literature to painting, from Cinema to Sculpture, a good glass of red has inspired and filled the greatest authors of all times with awe. After our article on the bond between wine and literature, this time, to join the wonders of the eye to those of taste and smell, we are going to talk about visual arts, painting and sculpture.
We will start from what is perhaps the most representative period of the history of art in our beautiful country: the Renaissance. A small town in Tuscany called Caprese, near Arezzo, gave birth to an artist who best sums up the interplay of aesthetic ideals and moral: Michelangelo Buonarroti. You may wonder how wine relates to the great author of the Sistine Chapel. Well, in the work of the Tuscan artist, wine intertwines the sacred and the profane element and this theme encompasses the two different disciplines (painting and sculpture) that saw Michelangelo as the greatest exponent. It draws a fine line between different artistic productions of that time. It is well- known that most of the works of Michelangelo had a religious theme, not because of a particular mystical inspiration of his, but because they were commissioned by his clients, mostly Popes and Cardinals. The religious theme is also prevalent in “The drunkenness of Noah”, a fresco dating around 1508 and commissioned by Pope Julius II, which is part of the cycle that decorates the vault of the Sistine Chapel.
In the first series of frescoes, Noah is sleeping peacefully, as if he has had a bit too much to drink. His sons Ham, Shem and Japheth are sitting on his right, pointing to his body and trying to cover his nudity (though they are naked themselves). Noah’s body, unlike the athletic figures of his sons (in line with Renaissance dictates of the perfect Hellenic body) is flabby and sagging with a fat belly, as if he were a heavy drinker. Indeed, the left side of the fresco depicts the moment before his drunkenness, one in which Noah is committed to plough the fields to grow vines. The fresco recalls, therefore, two different moments in the lives of those who will build the famous Arc: the fatigue and “purification” of work against their excess of lack of control. We seems to be witnessing the first campaign against alcohol abuse in history.
Sacred and profane, it was once said. The line joining the two brings us back a few years, to 1496, when Michelangelo was commissioned to work on an ancient subject by Cardinal Raffaele Riario. The “poor” prelate was in fact victim of a fraud: passionate about Hellenic art, he had been sold a statue known as the “Sleeping Cupid” as a relic of classical antiquity. Too bad that the author of that valuable artefact, according to some sources, was instead Michelangelo from Caprese. Having discovered the fraud, Cardinal Riario called the unsuspecting author, not to punish him (after all he was not guilty of anything), but to commission him another statue. This is when the “Bacchus”, now in the Museum of Bargello in Florence, was sculpted. A young man full of God’s intoxication, staggering, holding a cup full of nectar. Behind him a small and clever satyr, takes advantage of his drunken state and tastes the grapes the god is holding in his left hand. All Renaissance criteria prevail in this masterpiece: naturalism, fluidity and balance. Michelangelo invites us to admire the statue from all sides (not the dogma of the flat perspective typical of the Middle Ages) to appreciate its volumes and its powerful plasticity. Even the cup, finely carved, invites us with its roundness to “inspect” the work, the author’s tribute to ancient art … and the precious nectar he loved so much.