Wine Exlibris - bookplates with wine motifs

The world of wine is a treasure chest when
it comes to beautiful and varied motifs -
not only as splendid illustrations for wine
books, but also as an inspiration for book-
plate-designing artists.

Simplicity, humour and the well-balanced use
of colour are the hallmarks of the Danish
bookplate-artist Per Christensen’s wine-exlibris.


A list of the best literature on bookplates with wine motifs:

Dr. Semsey Andor. Ex-Libris et Graphiques d’Occasion inspirés par la Vigne et le Vin. Budapest: Magyar Mezögazdasàgi Múzeum, 1972.

Lou Hoefnagels. Wijn Exlibris. Wormer: Inmerc bv, 1992.

Hermann Jung. Wein-Exlibris aus 21 Ländern. Würzburg: Stürtz Verlag, 1973.

G. Jan Rhebergen. 24 exlibris med vin-motiver. Frederikshavn: Exlibristen, 1979.

Erik Skovenborg. Vinexlibris.
Bookplates with wine motifs.
Frederikshavn: Private Edition, 1991.

My book on bookplates with wine motifs was published as a reprint of an article in the Jubilee publication of the fiftieth anniversary of the Danish Bookplate Society (Dansk Exlibris Selskab, 1991). The book on wine-exlibris combine the agreeable story of wine with the useful story of wine books, wine bookplates and collectors.


The art of wine-making is much older than the art of making bookplates. In Soviet Georgia archaeologists have found evidence of viticulture from the period 6000 BC, while the conception of
bookplates was second to the stroke of genius of Gutenberg in 1440, when he initiated the art of printing with his casting of separate metal types. So it is no coincidence, that one of the early German bookplates - the woodcut of Albrecht Dürer from 1502 for his friend Willibald Pirckheimer (Fig. 1) - is a coat of arms decorated with cornucopias of grapes and vines. With his friendly motto SIBI ET AMICIS (for himself and his friends) Pirckheimer is quite in harmony with the ancient toast: "May we never want a friend, nor a bottle to share with him !"
In the mountainous area between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, where Noah's Ark grounded on the mountains of Ararat, the vine has been native for thousands of years. In the museum of Tbilisi, Soviet Georgia, one can witness a clay jar, a kwevri, well suited for the fermentation of grapes. The kwevri, decorated with a bunch of grapes on each side, has been dated as early as 6000 BC. Maybe it was this jar Lev Beketov, living near the peninsula of wine, Crimea, used as a model for his linocut for the winespecialist Aktschurin Roman (Fig. 2).
Each of the old wineloving cultures had a separate myth of the birth of wine. In Persia King Djemshid was given credit for the introduction of the grapevine to his country. He became so fond of grapes that he was determined to enjoy the pleasure of eating the sweet fruit all the year round. Large earthenware jars were filled with grapes and sweet grape-juice and then stored in the cool rock vaults for the winter. Naturally the must began to ferment and King Djemshids slaves, who had secretly swilled the juice, fell into an intoxicated sleep on the floor of the cellar. During the night they were killed by the accumulation of carbon dioxide formed by the fermentation. Word spread around the castle that the grape-juice had become poisonous during storage, and the king, who always needed poison, reserved what he believed to be a new kind of deadly potion for prisoners condemned to death. At the same time one of the kings lovely slaves suffered from a headache so excruciating that she decided to end her life. She crept into the vault and drank some of the deadly potion, but she waited for death in vain. The second drink made her feel better, and the third beaker eased her pain and let her fall asleep. Having slept heavily for one day and one night she woke up restored to health. Learning of the miraculous cure King Djemshid was tempted to test the magic power of the new beverage. He enjoyed his wine and ordered that grapevines should be planted and wine made in every part of the kingdom. Because of its fame of cures the wonderful tonic was named "the royal medicine" and wine was consequently held in high esteem by the Persians as shown by the woodcut of the Latvian artist Peteris Upitis for August M. Traun (Fig. 3).
Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, travelled to Greece from Asia Minor. King Cadmus, the grand-father of Dionysus, entered Greece from Phoenicia and founded the city of Thebes. Semele, his daughter, was expecting a child with Zeus, who had to this end taken human form, but Semele, alas, like all women was downright curious. She asked that her lover visit her, if only once, in the divine form that he wore with the goddesses. The wish was granted and Zeus came to her as a flash of lightning by which, being mortal, Semele was blasted. The child in Semele's womb, being an Immortal, was not hurt by his father's lightning. Zeus cut him from the mother's womb and, tearing open his thigh, sewed him into it to grow there until the time came to be born. After the birth Hermes carried the infant Dionysus to the safety of the nymphs of Mount Nysa, where he was tutored by the wise satyr, Silenus. Per Christensen designed the merry wine god to toast the author of these lines from the front page of his wine books (Fig. 4)
The art of viticulture reached Greece about 2000 BC. By the time the battle of Troy was fought 800 years later wine was an ordinary drink and as necessary to the Greeks as bread and meat.
"Amongst beverages wine is the most useful, amongst medicines the most palatable and amongst foods the most tempting" was the opinion of the Greek author Plutarch. In his woodcut for Aina
Bjorck (Fig. 5) G. Gaudaen has portrayed one of the guests at an ancient Greek symposium.
In the Jewish culture the history of wine begins after The Flood. According to the Story of the Creation the yeast cell was created on the 3rd day, and when Noah's Ark grounded on the mountains of Ararat he went ashore and planted a vineyard with no delay. The ninth chapter of Genesis, verse 21, reports an important effect of wine: Noah drank of the wine and he was drunken. In verse 29 we are told of yet another medical result: Noah became 950 years old ! In his woodcut for H. Bezzegh K. Varkonyi shows us the old wine grower in good form (Fig. 6). For Moses' spies in the land of Canaan the first sight of the Promised Land was a very large cluster of grapes. The heavy cluster, weighing down the two bearers on Michael Florian's woodcut for Oralkovi (Fig. 7), was welcomed by the jews as a promise of fertile land. Already in the days of Jesus wine was an ordinary drink to take with meals. At celebrations wine was particularly important and at the wedding in Canaa Jesus had to help his hosts in their predicament by transforming 6 stone jars each holding twenty or thirty gallons of water into excellent wine. That miracle has inspired the Spanish monk Oriol M. Divi,
who in his woodcut for J. M. A. de Belder (Fig. 8) portrays Jesus and his mother next to the wine, Gods gift to mankind - VINUM DONUM DEI.
The Romans were passionately fond of anything Greek and they quickly embraced Dionysus as their own Bacchus - a god that became immensely popular with every class of their society. "Give
me a bowl of wine, in this I bury all unkindness" Julius Caesar exclaimed in the drama of Shakespeare. In the Roman army wine was held in high esteem. The Centurions carried a vine rod as a sign of their authority, for it was regarded as a peculiar privilege of the Roman soldier to be flogged with a rod of vine-wood rather than with a common stick like the foreign auxiliary troops. In
his history of the Gallic Wars Caesar tells of the obligation of every soldier in the field to drink his measure of wine to preserve good health and bodily resistance to dysentery. "Wine is
life" the Roman satirist Petronius wrote, and that concept, EX VITE VITA, is the theme of Italo Zettis graceful woodcut for Gino Sabattini (Fig. 9).

"Making good wine is a skill, fine wine an art" says the renowned Californian wine grower Robert Mondavi. The Italian Wine Museum in Torgiano in 1987 arranged a competition with the purpose of spreading knowledge of wine growing and the use of wine and to illustrate all aspects of this particular field with suitable graphic art of good quality". In the following we shall try to do so. "Wine is sunlight held together by water" Galileo Galilei claimed. It is the vine, here in a version cut in wood by G. Schelpe for van Wijngaarden (Fig. 10), that has to perform this miracle. "Behold the rain, which descends from Heaven upon our vineyards, and which enters into the vine-roots to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy" according to the American author, scientist and diplomat Benjamin Franklin. A vine growing on a hillside with a good view of the sun and the river creates the best wine. The perfectly situated vineyard of Werner Kalbfuss, director of a wine school at the Mosel, has been cut in wood by Herbert Ott (Fig. 11). When the grapes have reached perfect ripeness, the harvest commences. Picking grapes by hand is hard work, and the Spanish girl in Rafael Masos bookplate (Fig. 12) may expect backache from her
long working hours in a stooping position. The yeast cells cannot start fermenting the must until the grapes have been lightly crushed; the barefoot technique of Frank Alpresa's woodcut (Fig. 13) however, has almost everywhere been replaced by ingenious machines. The wine press, the handsome motif of Allan Jordan's bookplate for Karl Weidenhofer (Fig. 14), is used when the
fermentation is planned to take place without contact with the grape skins in order to produce a less tannic wine. After fermentation most fine reds and some fine whites spend from 6 - 24 months in oak barrels. Wood aging imparts flavour components and also tannins, which help to preserve it during its maturation in the bottle. No novel invention has replaced the oak cask and the process of wine making from grapes through barrel to bottle is on elegant display in Christian Blæsbjerg's bookplate for Hanne Gabrielsen (Fig. 15). Eventually the wine must be bottled and a wine label applied. Much care is taken in the design of the wine label, which has the purpose of putting the wine in the public eye. Hans Hornhaver, designer of the charming motif of Fig. 16, has created many eye-catching wine labels. Now the wine is shipped to the wine merchant, who, on behalf of the vintners, takes care of the direct consumer contact. The bookplate of the Copenhagen wine dealer Carl Olsen (Fig. 17) was designed like an old signboard leading the customers to the store with healthy and nourishing red wine.


"A glass of wine is a great refreshment after a hard days work" Ludwig van Beethoven thought, and the Spanish peasant in Rafael Masos bookplate completely agrees (Fig. 18). Nor is wine to be despised in the leisure time. Inger Sørensen, master of the old art of paper cut, has portrayed her husband, Benny Sørensen, in a relaxed position (Fig. 19). Little is reported on his fishing luck, but with the French author Alexandre Dumas he can make the observation, that nothing makes the future look so bright as to study it through a glass of Chambertin ! The table, however, is the place where wine is appreciated most of all, and a meal without wine is like dancing without music. The planning of the party starts in the cellar, where the right bottle is sought out and, as shown by Antoon Ver-meylen (Fig. 20), examined for deposit with the light of a candle. "C'est dans la cave, que se trouve l'ame de la maison", Gomes de la Serna wrote, you'll find the soul of the house in the cellar. When it comes to the food Mario de Filippis in his restaurant in Arezzo cope with a serving of spaghetti and a bottle of Chianti, as seen in Jacovittis cheerful drawing (Fig. 21), as well as the fine Italian wining and dining. A noble wine deserves a proper glass. If the stem of the glass is too short, if the shape does not concentrate the aroma and if the enjoyment of the colour is disturbed by heavily cut or tinted glass, it may all ruin the perfect tasting experience. Jan Bruggheman left nothing to chance when he had W. Braspennincx make sure, that his glass was produced to a shape proposed by the International Standards Organisation (Fig. 22). "Collectors are happy people" Goethe said, and surely at all Bookplate Congresses you meet scores of happy collectors all day long proving the Swedish author Albert Engstrom wrong, when he claims that all fun without alcohol is artificial. It is true, however, that wine has added sunshine and good spirits to many Congress Banquets. For the 11th Bookplate Congress in Hamburg in 1966 Karl Blossfeld created the elegant front page of the menu with his joyful etching from the old Hanseatic town (Fig. 23).

"Where there is no wine, there is no love" was the opinion of the Greek playwright Euripides. Throughout the ages artists were always inspired by the theme of wine and love; and bookplate artists make no exception. Piotr Maszarkowski in his etching for Jan Bruggheman (Fig. 24) made the wine cellar a lovers tryst. The bride of his choice is offered a glass of wine, which, according to Ovid, "warms the blood and adds luster to the eyes; oh yes", the Roman poet says, "wine and love have ever been allies". The late Danish bookplate collector Jørgen Vils-Pedersen had some excellent exlibris to his name with this theme. Pam G. Rueters woodcut shows us Priapus, the Greek god of fertility, the son of Aphrodite and Dionysus (Fig. 25). His proud symbol is the erect phallus. In the world of medicine, however, he has named a condition with a prolonged and painful erection, Priapismus. "Ein Madchen und ein Glaschen Wein, kurieren alle Not, drum wer nicht trinkt, und wer nicht kusst, der ist so gut wie tot"! This diagnosis was made by the German poet Goethe, and it does leave a glimpse of hope for the elderly gentleman in the etching of Joseph Hemard (Fig. 26). He has certainly closed the door to love and does not kiss anymore, but he has opened the door to his well-stocked wine cellar instead. In the Holy Bible he might have read reports of the wonderful powers of wine. In Genesis we find Lot and his daughters in a predicament in which Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed and Lot's wife became a pillar of salt. During their stay in a mountain cavern Lot's elder daughter says to her sister: "Our father is old and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of all the earth. Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve offspring through our father." In David Bekker's etching for Boris Lewych their plan has been carried out with wondrous results (Fig. 27). Maybe the daughters used burgundy, a wine that according to the French gives women much pleasure, especially if it is taken by the men ! With his ipse fecit from 1991 the Danish artist Per Christensen proves, that the eternal theme of wine and love is a continuous inspiration. The motif with its exciting suggestions in modern style naturally displays a glass of rose with two unopened bottles of rose seen from the top (Fig. 28).

"Wine" Hippocrates says, "is fit for man in a wonderful way provided that it is taken with good sense by the sick as well as the healthy in accordance with the circumstances of each individual person." The wise words of the Father of Medicine are valid even today, and H. Huffert shows Dr. Hippocrates walking with his staff through the vineyard with his generous measure of healthy and nourishing wine (Fig. 29). The Greeks used to take their wine well mixed with water, and unmixed wine was considered improper. Diluted or not, the side-effects of wine the Greeks knew quite well. The Greek poet
Eubulus put it thus: "Three bowls only do I mix for the temperate: one to health, which they empty first, the second to love and pleasure, the third to sleep. When this bowl is drunk up, wise guests go home. The fourth bowl is ours no longer, but belongs to violence; the fifth to uproar, the sixth to drunken revel, the seventh to black eyes, the eighth is the policeman's, the ninth belongs to biliousness, and the tenth to madness and hurling the furniture." What number of bowls the wine god in J. Nechanszky's etching has emptied the story does not tell (Fig. 30). He does, however, seem to be heading for a hangover. In his parable of the good Samaritan Jesus mentions the medical use of wine. He tells of the traveller who was assaulted by robbers. A passing Samaritan felt pity for him, went to him and bound up his wounds pouring on olive oil and wine. This tale of compassion was illustrated with sensibility by P. Karel Aadler in his colour woodcut for Joannis Studer (Fig. 3l). "Wine is the milk of the old age" said the Jewish physician and philosopher Maimonides. "The older a man is, the more beneficial the wine is for him." From antiquity the wise and learned men had been in complete agreement with this point of view. Plato wrote in his Laws: "Boys under eighteen shall not taste wine at all; for one should not conduct fire to fire; wine in moderation may be tasted until one is thirty years old, but the young man should abstain entirely from drunkenness and exces-sive drinking; but when a man is entering upon his fortieth year he, after a feast at the public mess, may summon the other gods and particularly call upon Dionysus to join the old men's holy rite, and their mirth as well, which the god has given to men to lighten their burden - wine, that is, the cure for the crabbedness of old age, whereby we may renew our youth and enjoy forgetfulness of despair". Michel Fingesten's etching of Diogenes indeed shows the philosophers contempt for luxurious living quarters (Fig. 32), Diogenes did, however, resist the temptation to deny himself the pleasures of a good book and a glass of wine. "I have enjoyed great health at a great age because everyday since I can remember, I have consumed a bottle of wine except when I have not felt well. Then I have consumed two bottles". This prescription for a long life by the Bishop of Seville may have included Tokay wines, that had achieved a reputation of having the power to "unscrew the coffin lid". The Hungarian "King of wines and the wine for Kings" is the motif used by Lenke Diskay in her bookplate for Sandor Bodnar, the manager of a large wine-cooperative near Tokaj (Fig. 33).


"What is man, when you come to think upon him, but a minutely set, ingenious machine for turning, with infinite artfulness, the red wine of Shiraz into urine" Isaak Dinesen asks in her book
"Seven Gothic Tales". Well, people also like to read wine books, and some booklovers decorate their wine books with bookplates, exlibris, which other lovers of graphic art eagerly collect. One of the most enthusiastic collectors is Norbert Lippoczy, who during decades has been able to collect more than 5000 exlibris with wine motifs. Lippoczy, who descends from Hungarian vintners, left for Poland after World War II, where he started collecting books about wine. His wine library holds more than 1000 volumes on wine culture and wine growing in the Hungarian, Polish, German
and Russian languages. The library with books and bookplates has been donated to the Wine Museum in Budapest. "No thing more excellent nor more valuable than wine was ever granted mankind by God" was the opinion of the Greek philosopher Plato. This conception, VINUM - DONUM DEI, is the motif of Dr. Otakar Marik's woodcut for the great collector and wine lover Lippoczy (Fig. 34). Another Wine Museum is located in Zielona Gora, an old town where vineyards have been found since the 15th century. Zb. Dolatowski's woodcut deals with the medieval wine harvest (Fig. 35). These traditional activities can still be found in several European wine districts, where the money for investments in modern machinery has not yet been found. In the center of Napa Valley, California, you will find St. Helena, a town living by and living for wine. One of its main attractions is a wine library run by the Napa Valley Wine Library Association. The library abound with hundreds of wine books, all decorated with the excellent bookplate of Mallette Dean. The motif, a vintner picking grapes, has been printed with the medium ruby colour, that noble red wine achieves during several years maturation in bottle (Fig. 36). "Nothing is more useful than wine for strengthening the body and also more detrimental to our pleasure if moderation be lacking" said the Roman author Pliny the Elder. Today all bottles with alcoholic beverages on the American market must carry a "Government Warning" concerning the risk of health problems in general and the risk during pregnancy and car driving in particular. The vintner James Spaulding has added this comment on the Stonegate Winery bottles: "Wine has enhanced our lives since civilization began, and is as much a part of our culture as music, poetry and religion. It has ever been the beverage of moderation and cordiality to be enjoyed at mealtimes with guests, family and friends".

Erik Skovenborg Home Page <>