The meaning of wine and bread through the centuries

  • 2012-02-02
  • By Sam Logger

Unknown artist after Maerten de Vos (1532-1603). The Wedding at Cana. C1600-1650. Oil on canvas.

TALLINN - The past has always been something intriguing, hiding the secrets of history. People try to reveal these secrets and create a full picture about society which lived even centuries ago. With this small insight, it is possible to structure the relations among people, their technical development and cultural characteristics. And it is all important retelling history. We are now introduced with the exhibition “Vinum et panis. The Wine and Bread Motif in 16th – 20th Century Art,” which showcases the various meanings of wine and bread in Estonia throughout the centuries, at the Kumu Art Museum in Tallinn.

“In Estonian art museums, the historical food culture in general, or more specifically wine and bread, has not been treated separately so far,” says Ulrike Plath, Ph.D. in history and one of the idea’s authors. “Wine and bread – vinum et panis – are powerful symbols, evident in different layers of culture,” she adds. Thus, the exhibition offers a diverse look into these historical meanings, collaborating with other Estonian museums, the Consistory of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church and its congregations.

Visitors will not be disappointed as the items guide them through the subject, with the help of engravings, applied art, paintings, sculptures, photos, books and ethnographic objects. They affirm the importance of the two in the culture of eating and drinking in the past of Estonia. Moreover, wine and bread appear to be such vital components in everyday life that they demonstrate both the pagan and the Christian world. Hence, it can be said that the exhibition is divided in two different, but subordinated, worlds – the sacred and the profane. “When you look at the display, you will definitely be surprised by all these items that can be found here in Estonia, and about the sheer number of works of art that can be created on food culture, or interpreted solely on the basis of just the wine and bread motif,” the curator Tiina-Mall Kreem, Ph.D. in art history, says. “For the audience, it should be interesting to view ‘different’ kinds of items side-by-side with masterful works of art,” she notes.

Additionally, visitors are encouraged to participate in a pottery course at the Kumu pottery studio, shaping their own memories of the exhibition in the form of bread pans, cake trays and wine chalices, proving that the combination of theory and practice is worthy to strengthen knowledge and making history more interesting.
It is often said that the awareness of the history drives the country ahead, as the respect of the past reflects the respect of the present and future. This exhibition is like a small, although very valuable, mirror of what used to happen and how people decided to manage their lives. Wine and bread are known from ancient times, and they both have travelled through the social severability, political systems and cultural changes and seen the transformations of their meanings, yet they are still somehow appreciated as the essence of being alive.

Of course, this exhibition draws the image of one region, but it is just as fascinating. It’s a great opportunity to notice how these products of energy had been adopted in the surrounding community, which separated rich and poor, powerful and weak. Food and drink as the key factors to the existence are not questioned, and this exhibition shows the dependence on the two in the shape of art, may it be made for personal expression or designed to attract the masses.

What is the meaning of wine and bread? Does it demand a constant meaning which stays unchanged for good? Or is it something that relies on the perception of people, hence cannot require a unique right to remain unchanged? What does history have to say about that? This exhibition invites the world which tries to give answers to these questions. Yet, the final decision is left to the visitor to declare what role wine and bread have played a century ago, and if they still have it today.

The exhibition is open until March 11, 2012.