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Bach, the Grape-Stamper (BWV 43/7)

By Thomas Braatz (June 2005)

This is a rather lengthy report, not necessarily of interest to all readers:

Here is a follow-up on what appears to be an unusual depiction (at least for me and perhaps for a few others reading this as well) of "Christus, der Keltertreter" {"Christ, the Wine/Grape-Stamper"} or "Christus in der Kelter" {"Christ in the Wine Press."} There is even a Bach cantata text where this image is used directly! But first, here is what Lucia Haselböck has to say about this image in her book "Bach-Textlexikon" [Bärenreiter, 2004]:

"Christ in the Wine Press" is an allegory of the suffering Savior. The trampling on crushing and mashing of the grapes with one's feet was considered since antiquity to be very difficult work usually left to be carried out by the vassals or statute laborers. While carrying out this arduous task, the grape-stampers/-stompers were spattered with red grape juice (mainly red grapes were being harvested) and resembled a body covered with streams of blood. With such scenes in mind and in an epoch when the illiterate populace could only view picture Bibles, the image of a Christ covered in blood was seen as analogous to the workers stamping/stomping on the grapes in a wine vat or wine press. In this manner people could see themselves as these grape-stampers and associate their own heavy labors with those of God's servant, Christ. The screw-like grooves of the vertical posts of the wine press are also a special symbol, according to biblical tradition, for the anger of a wrathful God and the horizontal cross beam were interpreted as part of Christ's cross which he bears. The Christian church fathers saw the typology of Christ's sacrificial death in the prophetic announcements of the OT: making known the future trial in universal court "I alone have trodden the wine press" [Isaiah 63:3] as related to the connected vision in Revelations 19:15, as well as the reports contained in Genesis 49:11 and Numbers 13:18-25. Here are these references with more context as quoted from the Bible (usually the New Living Bible - for a more contemporary translation):

Genesis 49:11 He ties his foal to a grapevine, the colt of his donkey to a choice vine. He washes his clothes in wine because his harvest is so plentiful.

Numbers 13:18-24 See what the land is like and find out whether the people living there are strong or weak, few or many. What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? Do their towns have walls or are they unprotected? How is the soil? Is it fertile or poor? Are there many trees? Enter the land boldly, and bring back samples of the crops you see." (It happened to be the season for harvesting the first ripe grapes.) So they went up and explored the land from the wilderness of Zin as far as Rehob, near Lebo-hamath. Going northward, they passed first through the Negev and arrived at Hebron, where Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai-- all descendants of Anak-- lived. (The ancient town of Hebron was founded seven years before the Egyptian city of Zoan.) When they came to what is now known as the valley of Eshcol, they cut down a cluster of grapes so large that it took two of them to carry it on a pole between them! They also took samples of the pomegranates and figs. At that time the Israelites renamed the valley Eshcol-- "cluster"-- because of the cluster of grapes they had cut there.

Isaiah 16:8-11 Weep for the abandoned farms of Heshbon and the vineyards at Sibmah. The wine from those vineyards used to make the rulers of the nations drunk. Moab was once like a spreading grapevine. Her tendrils spread out as far as Jazer and trailed out into the desert. Her shoots once reached as far as the Dead Sea. But now the enemy has completely destroyed that vine. So I wail and lament for Jazer and the vineyards of Sibmah. My tears will flow for Heshbon and Elealeh, for their summer fruits and harvests have all been destroyed. Gone now is the gladness; gone is the joy of harvest. The happy singing in the vineyards will be heard no more. The treading out of grapes in the winepresses has ceased forever. I have ended all their harvest joys. I will weep for Moab. My sorrow for Kir-hareseth will be very great.

Isaiah 63:1-6 Who is this who comes from Edom, from the city of Bozrah, with his clothing stained red? Who is this in royal robes, marching in the greatness of his strength? "It is I, the LORD, announcing your salvation! It is I, the LORD, who is mighty to save!" Why are your clothes so red, as if you have been treading out grapes? "I have trodden the winepress alone; no one was there to help me. In my anger I have trampled my enemies as if they were grapes. In my fury I have trampled my foes. It is their blood that has stained my clothes. For the time has come for me to avenge my people, to ransom them from their oppressors. I looked, but no one came to help my people. I was amazed and appalled at what I saw. So I executed vengeance alone; unaided, I passed down judgment. I crushed the nations in my anger and made them stagger and fall to the ground."

Revelation 19:15-16 From his mouth came a sharp sword, and with it he struck down the nations. He ruled them with an iron rod, and he trod the winepress of the fierce wrath of almighty God. On his robe and thigh was written this title: King of kings and Lord of lords.

The depiction of Christ as the wine-stamper has a long and widely distributed tradition beginning with the early Middle Ages and lasting well into the 19th century, throughout Europe and into South America as well. Christ, the Wine-Stamper gradually became a general symbol of salvation and evidence for this is found in the art of the early Middle Ages, in church frescos, in book illuminations, on pious prayer leaflets printed for general distribution, on coins and it turns up in the texts of Psalm books (hymnals) and in folksongs as well. The image adapted itself easily to the various currents and historical movements within the church and this, in itself, makes it possible to observe the changes in piousness from the time of the church fathers up to the mysticism of the Late Middle Ages. A shift took place from the intensive practice of meditation as prevalent in the Middle Ages to the mystical absorption beginning in the 14th century when the following change can be observed: Christ, the Wine-Stamper, who is revered for the most difficult task, hard physical labor, he performs for mankind, becomes, in the Late Middle Ages, the noble grape which will (Himself) be pressed. The biblical precedent for this image the church fathers found in Isaiah 53: 2 My servant grew up in the LORD's presence like a tender green shoot, sprouting from a root in dry and sterile ground. 5 But he was wounded and crushed {Hebrew: daka'= to crush, to be crushed} for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace. He was whipped, and we were healed! 10 But it was the LORD's good plan to crush {again Hebrew: daka'= to crush, to be crushed} him and fill him with grief.

Another passage the church fathers referred to was Song of Solomon 1:14 which was translated in various ways:

Vulgate: Song of Solomon 1:13 botrus cypri dilectus meus mihi in vineis Engaddi

[where 'botrus' goes back to the Greek 'botrys' = artemisia. Do you remember 'artemisia'? Yes, that's wormwood/absinth, 'Wermut'/'vermouth,' but what is it doing here "in vineis" = in the vineyard of Engaddi? Greek 'botrys' also means 'a bunch of grapes' which in Latin is 'botryo(n), botryonis.'

What did Luther come up with here:

Luther Unrevised 1545 Song of Solomon 1:14 Mein Freund ist mir eine Traube Kopher in den Weingärten zu Engeddi. ["My beloved is a grape of/from Kopher in the vineyards of Engeddi", but 'Traube' need not mean mainly a single grape as it does in modern German, it could refer to 'a cluster of grapes' as well. Most Germans, from Luther onwards would have at least had a 'grape' or 'cluster of grapes' in mind even though 'Kopher' would not signify anything specifically. "Weingärten" {'vineyards'} would simply support the idea of grape(s) beyond a shadow of a doubt. The DWB does not indicate the general, wider appliof "Traube" being figuratively applied to simply mean 'a cluster of anything' which is now allowed in the modern Duden. The modern revisions of Luther's Bible translations reflect this in their attempt to apply biblical research to what Luther had already written. Here are two modern revisions of Luther within the last 25 years:

Song of Solomon 1:14 Mein Freund ist mir eine Traube von Zyperblumen in den Weinbergen zu Engedi.


(Revised 1984) Song of Solomon 1:14 Mein Freund ist mir eine Traube von Zyperblumen in den Weingärten von En-Gedi.

["My male friend is for me like a bunch of Cyprus flowers in the vineyards of En-Gedi." - "Traube" is still visible, but how do you get 'a grape of Cyprus flowers' to make any sense except to substitute 'bunch/bouquet' for "Traube" which most Germans still know means "grape" in almost every instance.]

What happened in the English language?:

KJV: Song of Solomon 1:14 My beloved is unto me as a cluster {Hebrew: eshkole = cluster} of camphire in the vineyards of Engedi. [Does this need translation to modern English? It certainly does! Even in its full version, the OED does not have an entry to explain this word, so what did people reading or listening to God's word think when they read this? 'Camphor,' of course! But this quote has nothing to do with the trees from which camphor is derived. The OED explains: >>The shrub called 'camphire' in the 1611 version of the Bible is now identified with the 'Lawsonia inermis' or henna-plant, family 'Lythraceae.'<<

So what do we get as modern English translations today?

Song of Solomon 1:14 My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blooms In the vineyards of En Gedi. THE BELOVED

Song of Solomon 1:14 A cluster of cypress is my beloved to me, In the vineyards of En-Gedi!

Song of Solomon 1:14 My love is to me as a branch of the cypress-tree in the vine-gardens of En-gedi.

Lucia Haselböck quotes a German translation I have not come upon:

"Eine Zyperntraube ist mein Geliebter" ["A grape from Cyprus my beloved is"]

In this pictorial universe of religious experience, one can then easily associate with the wine press an applied metaphor of the mystical well/spring/fountain of the water of life whereby the picture of the wine press is transformed into the eucharistic depiction of the Passion where Christ's blood flows from the body he is sacrificing for mankind. To be sure, the pictorial representations of these symbols undergo change over time as they flow from one to another, but the connections to the main symbolic notion are easily recognized despite the variations that do occur. The water in the well/fountain/source of life, as seen from the viewpoint of the mystic, is of the same nature and form as that of the wine that issues from the wine press. This wine is understood as the sacrificial blood that has been shed by the Savior and the pressed grape is a metaphor for Christ having given up his life in an act of sacrifice.

There are also variants of this image of "Christ, the Wine-Stamper" to be found in Baroque poetry. Taking Isaiah 53:5 "But he was wounded and crushed for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace. He was whipped, and we were healed!" as his inspiration, Heinrich Müller ["Liebeskuß," [Hof, 1737, p. 50] puts it this way:

"Die Angst hat ihn so gekältert, daß sein ganzes Leichnam wie eine zerdrückte Kirsche Blut gespritzet. Da hat der heilige Leib Christi müssen zerknirschet werden, und wie eine Weintraube zerfliessen." ["Fear has pressed him so hard that his entire body/corpse had sprayed/sprinkled/spattered blood like a squashed/crushed cherry. At this point the sacred body of Christ had to be trampled upon/crunched together and the juices flow apart/away like a grape."

A Baroque poet from Nürnberg, Johannes Klaj, depicts the 'active wine-trampler' as in (Isaiah 63:3 - see above): "Ich hab in meinem Zorn / Das ist es / was der Ertzvatter Jacob von ihm gewaissaget: Er wird sein Kleid in Wein waschen / und seinen Mantel in Weinbeerblut." ["'I did this because I was angry' - that is what Jacob, the patriarch, had prophesied: 'He will wash his clothes in wine and his coat in the 'blood' of the grapes."]

Genesis 49:11-12 He ties his foal to a grapevine, the colt of his donkey to a choice vine. He washes his clothes in wine because his harvest is so plentiful. His eyes are darker than wine, and his teeth are whiter than milk.

Klaj also speaks as follows about this: "Christ has washed his clothes, that is to say his flesh, in wine, particularly when he was flagellated until he was all bloody; and then he also, just as Isaiah had predicted, got his clothes all bloody in the wine press for he alone stepped into the wine press and trampled the grapes. And when he was tied to one of the pillars (screw-like posts of the wine press) and scourged, it appeared as if he were being pressed with wounds, but in reality he was pressing out all the devils, death, the world, and all sins as if they were grapes. ["Höllen- und Himmelfahrt Jesu Christi" [Nürnberg 1644, note 455.]

In the bass aria with trumpet of the Ascension cantata by Bach "Gott fähret auf mit Jauchzen" BWV 43/7, the great justifiable deed performed by Christ, the Wine Stamper {Latin: 'calcator uvarum'} is celebrated in song according to the 63rd chapter of Isaiah as quoted above:

"Er ists, der ganz allein / die Kelter hat getreten / voll Schmerzen, Qual und Pein, / Verlorne zu erretten / durch einen teuren Kauf." ["Full of pain and enduring torture, He is the One who all alone stomped on the grapes in the wine press in order to save, by means of his very costly purchase, those who were lost."]

Listen for Bach's word painting, particularly in the continuo part, but also in the trumpet and bass solo, with the numerous leaps that represent the jumping up and down of Christ as he tramples the grapes in order to redeem mankind.


I googled for some paintings with this theme and found the original source for Haselböck's picture is located in the Schwanenritterordenskapelle of St. Gumbertuskirche in Ansbach.

This is the church where the Dresdener Kammerchor under the direction of Hans-Christoph Rademann will perform BWV 225, 226, 228 (motets) as part of the Bachwoche Ansbach on August 1, 2005.

Another painting with a somewhat similar subject (actually quite different in that the structure of the wine press is not visible) is located in Pfünz im Altmühltal


Other paintings for which I can not find any pictures are located in Lübeck, and Heiligenblut (in Austria.)


Written by Thomas Braatz (June 1, 2005)

Cantata BWV 43: Complete Recordings | Recordings of Individual Movements | Discussions: Part 1 | Part 2


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