Single-sheet prints were first produced from woodblocks in the early 1400s. Many of those that were made as individual artworks do not survive, and those in good condition were often preserved because they were pasted inside books. This woodcut print was glued to the inside front cover of a fifteenth-century breviary from a Franciscan monastery in the Bavarian city of Ingolstadt.
By the second century Christians began to interpret the ‘crimsoned garments’ of Isaiah 63:1–3 (cf. Revelation 19:11–16) as a prophecy of Christ’s blood-stained body. Christ treads the winepress during his Passion, producing the Eucharistic cup. This reading took deep root in the literary and iconographic tradition of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and was depicted in a wide variety of media, including woodcuts, illuminated manuscripts, frescoes, stained glass, and even sculpted stone relief.
Glued into the breviary, this woodcut invites its user to contemplate Christ’s Passion and the Eucharist. As Christ treads the grapes, his blood drips down, mixing with the juice of the fruit and draining into a chalice. With his right arm wrapped around the winepress’s upper beam, Christ pulls the press down upon himself, as if to intensify his sufferings. With God the Father above him and Mary at his left, Christ points to his pierced side—the wound most associated with the Eucharist—as though to warn the viewer not to doubt as Thomas did (John 20:24–29).
The Evangelists surround Christ, depicted by their symbols (from the Prophet Ezekiel’s vision as recounted in Ezekiel 1; cf. Revelation 4:6–8): a man (Matthew), lion (Mark), ox (Luke), and eagle (John). St Matthew, in the lower right, dips his quill into the chalice, literally writing his Gospel with Christ’s blood and thereby emphasizing the unity of Scripture with the Word made flesh (verbum incarnatum and verbum scriptum). Cascading like a waterfall of words, seven banderoles present the figures’ prayers, in which the worshipper is invited to join.
Gertsman, Elina. 2013. ‘Multiple Impressions: Christ in the Winepress and the Semiotics of the Printed Image’, Art History, 36.2: 310–337
Gurewich, Vladimir. 1957. ‘Observations on the Iconography of the Wound in Christ’s Side, with Special Reference to Its Position’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 20.3/4: 358–362
Parshall, Peter and Rainer Schoch. 2005. Origins of European Printmaking: Fifteenth-Century Woodcuts and Their Public (New Haven: Yale University Press)
Wilken, Robert Louis (trans.) with Angela Russell Christman and Michael J. Hollerich. 2007. Isaiah: Interpreted by Early Christian and Medieval Commentators, The Church’s Bible (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans)
63Who is this that comes from Edom,
in crimsoned garments from Bozrah,
he that is glorious in his apparel,
marching in the greatness of his strength?
“It is I, announcing vindication,
mighty to save.”
2Why is thy apparel red,
and thy garments like his that treads in the wine press?
3“I have trodden the wine press alone,
and from the peoples no one was with me;
I trod them in my anger
and trampled them in my wrath;
their lifeblood is sprinkled upon my garments,
and I have stained all my raiment.
4For the day of vengeance was in my heart,
and my year of redemption has come.
5I looked, but there was no one to help;
I was appalled, but there was no one to uphold;
so my own arm brought me victory,
and my wrath upheld me.
6I trod down the peoples in my anger,
I made them drunk in my wrath,
and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth.”
7I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord,
the praises of the Lord,
according to all that the Lord has granted us,
and the great goodness to the house of Israel
which he has granted them according to his mercy,
according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
8For he said, Surely they are my people,
sons who will not deal falsely;
and he became their Savior.
9In all their affliction he was afflicted,
and the angel of his presence saved them;
in his love and in his pity he redeemed them;
he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.
10But they rebelled
and grieved his holy Spirit;
therefore he turned to be their enemy,
and himself fought against them.
11Then he remembered the days of old,
of Moses his servant.
Where is he who brought up out of the sea
the shepherds of his flock?
Where is he who put in the midst of them
his holy Spirit,
12who caused his glorious arm
to go at the right hand of Moses,
who divided the waters before them
to make for himself an everlasting name,
13who led them through the depths?
Like a horse in the desert,
they did not stumble.
14Like cattle that go down into the valley,
the Spirit of the Lord gave them rest.
So thou didst lead thy people,
to make for thyself a glorious name.