Anticipation. In late April this year, Winterthur opens a major new exhibition that’s a joyous celebration of objects and imagery inspired by society’s love of wine.
Researched and conceived of by Senior Curator of Ceramics and Glass, Leslie Grigsby, the main focus is on how wine was marketed, consumed and enjoyed in America and Britain from the 1600s through the 1800s.
The delightfully broad exhibition includes over 300 items, some locally-made, from the Winterthur collections and promised gifts, in categories ranging from glassware and cellarettes (cases or furniture holding bottles of wine or liquor) to song sheets and paintings. Special programs will include lectures, tastings and more!
So raise a glass and put this exhibit on your calendar: April 28 to January 6, 2013.
The exhibit encompasses six main themes. History buffs can start with Classical References, highlighting connections between Greek and Roman wine vessels and deities and designs of later objects and motifs such as grapevines. The Business of Wine section considers how wine and related items were bought or sold and illustrates some “tricks of the trade” that unscrupulous merchants used to increase profits.
The largest section of the exhibit, Consumption & Equipage, focuses on vessels associated with specific types of wine, settings where wine was consumed, and the part wine played in social life.
In Politics, Patriotism & Taxes, wine-related objects commemorating important political figures and events are highlighted. The Religion section, not surprisingly, provides a glimpse of vessels created for use in the church as well as items made for the home and reference prayers and the activities of the clergy.
In the final section, Temperance, the objects illustrate some of the many and varied attempts over time to reduce drunkenness. Well worth a visit.
Focus on Social Life
Rather than focusing just on wine production, this well-researched and often humorous exhibition focuses on the vessels, imagery and social life that accompanied wine service. Among the surprises visitors will discover is the fact that some ancient wine vessels inspired later objects that would be put to totally unrelated uses. Huge, bell-shaped krater vases, for example, originally employed for mixing wine and water before serving, inspired many more modern garden urns and sports trophies.
Marketing of wine also changed over time. Until fairly recently, wine-related businesses were divided into those that sold wine and those that sold wares for storing, serving and drinking wine.
You’ll learn that European wines were most popular in America and preferences depended on wine availability, as well as on cultural background and pocketbook. Although the wealthy sometimes purchased wines from wholesalers or retailers or from agents overseas, through the mid-1700s, taverns played a major role in distributing wine to the general public. The later 1700s saw wine stores beginning to dominate the off-premises wine and spirits trade.
American merchants who sold glasses, decanters and other wine equipment imported the majority of their wares until well after the Revolutionary War. By then, average incomes were increasing, not surprisingly motivating manufacturers and merchants to offer a broader range of goods at different prices. Consumers who once could now only afford a single set of wineglasses could purchase a greater variety of sizes and types.
As was true of wine bottle and decanter shapes, the features of wineglasses evolved over time with bowl, stem and foot styles, as well as ornament, all reflecting the latest fashion. Fashion even dictated how wineglasses were to be held. Early paintings and prints show wine drinkers grasping filled glasses by the foot, rather than the stem or bowl, to keep the beverage cool.
Some bottles and decanters used in America and Britain were enhanced with the names of particular wines. Titles such as “Madeira,” “Claret” or “Sherry” (not to mention “Gin” and “Whiskey”!) were engraved or painted in enamel directly on the vessels or were inscribed on special hanging labels or stoppers.
Pubs and Taverns
Americans and Englishmen who wished to go out for a drink could choose from several types of public houses, which, ideally, were located in urban centers or along important roads and waterways. Taverns served wine, other beverages and often food and also sold alcohol in bottles or small vessels for resale or “take-away.”
Inns often served wine, beer, ale, cider and food, offered accommodations, and provided stabling for horses. The term restaurant was uncommon until the 1800s and referred to certain dining establishments, many of which offered wines with meals.
Games and Puzzles
In homes, taverns and inns, alcoholic beverages often accompanied card playing and board games or formed the centerpieces of entertainments themselves. Elaborate “puzzle jugs” were pierced in secret places to make them a challenge to the drink from; some pitchers and mugs had holes causing the beverage to spill on the would-be drinker—much like modern “dribble cups.”
Other vessels featured painted or three-dimensional animals or figures that slowly emerged as the glass or mug was drained. Cheerful inscriptions hinted at friendly gatherings just for fun, as evidenced by a punchbowl cheerfully inscribed “Drink Fair Don’t Swear”!
Religion and Wine
On a more serious note, wine also formed an important part of many religious ceremonies. Winterthur’s impressive collection of early American silver and pewter from communion services features a wide selection of beakers, chalices and flagons.
Other wine-related objects were made for use at home and display biblical references or satirize some churchmen who showed greater interest in a luxurious lifestyle than in spreading religious teachings.
Although many of us think of the Temperance Movement as an early 20th-century initiative, throughout history some members of society have pushed for greater moderation or abstinence in terms of alcoholic beverage consumption.
Ancient Greek and Roman writings prove educated society felt it was crude and unsophisticated to become inebriated, and the same was true in later centuries throughout Europe and America. As distilled spirits such as gin and whiskey became cheaper and more widely available after the early 1700s, however, alcoholism increased among the poor who had traditionally drunk beer or ale, which were lower in alcohol content.
It may be surprising to learn that some temperance groups even praised beer and ale as healthier alternatives to spirits!
The beautiful and sometimes humorous objects displayed in this exhibition, combined with the recent, growing fascination with locally produced wines and wine connoisseurship, make “Uncorked!” sure to attract a broad range of audiences, from the novice to the expert. -CL-
For more about the exhibition and a slideshow of selected objects, visit Winterthur.org/Uncorked.
Leslie Grigsby is Senior Curator of Ceramics and Glass at Winterthur Museum. Photos for this article are courtesy of Winterthur.
Uncorked! programming will include lectures, wine tastings and more!
Long-term features of the display include a small booklet to accompany the show and an online version of the exhibition permanently available on the Winterthur website. For more information, to become a member, or to register for events, contact 302-888-4713; Winterthur.org/Uncorked.
Member Preview Day, April 27, 12 to 7 p.m. Members are invited to preview the exhibit and enjoy guided gallery walks. Members free.
Winterthur Ceramics Conference: Wining, Dining & Ceramics!
April 26-27. Attend lectures and hands-on workshops on beverage and dinner wares and the entertainments that included them in the 17th to 19th centuries. Learn about period documents, advertisements, archaeological evidence, and, of course, ceramics! $355; $310 members; $175 (students with ID).
Guided Uncorked! Gallery Walks
Lecture: Dining by Design 1680-1860
Saturdays-Sundays at 11:30 a.m., 1 and 2 p.m.March 15, 5:30 p.m. Copeland Lecture Hall. Peter Brown, Director of the York Civic Trust in North Yorkshire, England, will explore the relationship between developments in cuisine, presentation of food on the table and rules of behavior which governed “Polite Society.” Members free. Included with admission.
Lunchtime Lecture Series: Uncorked!
Thursdays: May 3, 17; June 7, 21; Sept. 6, 27; Oct. 4, 25 Nov. 15, 29. 12:15 p.m., Rotunda. Talks from a variety of curators, wine and alcohol connoisseurs, collectors and historians who will discuss different wine-related themes. Members free. Included with admission.
Always Time for Wine! A History of Ceramic Drinking Vessels
May 3, 12:15 p.m. Leslie B. Grigsby, Senior Curator of Ceramics and Glass, will explore ceramic drinking vessels and the alcoholic beverages served from them from ancient times through the early 1800s.
Lantern slide. America or Europe, 1800s.
Game for teaching temperance and
other virtues. London, England, 1818.
Poster design from Specimens of
Theatrical Cuts... Philadelphia, 1872 or 1878.
Puzzle jugs for drinking games. England and America, 1750-1814.