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Romanian Folk Art - VM - Wim Eikelboom

Romanian Folk Art: Jesus Christ the Wine Press

Devotion in Cartoon Style

by Wim Eikelboom

In my childhood I sometimes became confused by all those metaphorical images about Jesus. At one time he was living water, another bread or a lamb and yet another time the good shepherd. Here we see a fifth metaphor on a somewhat damaged, old Romanian glass icon from the nineteenth century that hangs in our home.

Glass icons are painted on the back of a glass plate (behind glass painting). On this painting Jesus is central as the true vine. That is derived from the words in John’s Gospel 15:1, “I am the true vine and my Father is the vinedresser.”

On this icon the metaphor of the true vine has been literally elaborated: from Jesus’ side emerges a vine branch on which luscious bunches of grapes are growing. And then, in a cartoon-like fashion, it continues with the next step of the harvested grapes. Wine is made from it. On the left Jesus presses the grapes and catches the wine in a large jug or chalice. 

In the Christian tradition wine is the symbol for the shed blood of Jesus, who gave his life on the cross of Golgotha. At the Last Supper Jesus himself spoke these words when he poured the wine: “This cup is the New Covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:20).

The almost naked Christ figure dressed in a robe of death sits on a grave tomb, yet another reference to his death. The cross in the background reinforces this even more. The icon is called ‘Jesus Christ the Wine Press’ or The Mystical Wine Press’ in which the essence of the eucharist is expressed. In the Eastern-Orthodox and Roman-Catholic traditions the wine is believed to change into the blood of Christ during the celebration of the eucharist. This pictogram on glass captures the mysterious transubstantiation in an image. 

The most common versions of this image are fitted with a simple wooden frame and have adorned many a Romanian living room as a devotional picture, to worship Jesus and to thank him for his suffering and redemptive work.

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Jesus Christ the Wine Pressglass icon, 34 x 38 cm in wooden frame. Folk art from Oltenia, in South-West Romania, ca. 1850.

Wim Eikelboom (1968) is a Dutch journalist, art lover, and chairman of ArtWay. In daily life he works as an independent media professional for various media.

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