Two versions of The Wine Press by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope. Left: 1861. Watercolour, gouache, and gold paint on paper, 17 ½ x 9 ¾ inches (44.5 x 24.7 cm). Private collection. Provenance: Peter Nahum. Left: The Wine Press by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope, 1864. Oil on canvas, 37 x 261/4 inches (44.5 x 24.7 cm). Collection of Tate Britain. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

The Wine Press, one of Stanhope’s best-known works, exists in two versions, an early watercolour and a slightly later oil painting. The watercolour was exhibited at the Liverpool Academy in 1861, no. 351, where it was purchased by George Rae, a prominent Pre-Raphaelite collector from Birkenhead. The oil painting was completed in 1864. In the early 1860s Stanhope and Edward Burne-Jones had often worked together, with each artist benefiting from the association. In 1862 Stanhope had moved to Sandroyd, a house designed for him by Philip Webb at Cobham in Surrey. It was there, during the summer of 1863, that Burne-Jones painted The Annunciation (The Flower of God) and landscape studies for The Merciful Knight, while Stanhope worked on his oil version of The Wine Press

As well as a similarity in aim and expression, these three paintings have much in common structurally. All have figures contained within a flat foreground space occupying most of the picture plane producing pictures with little sense of depth. Stanhope’s use of a window allowed him to create a distant background without having to make the traditional middle-ground transition between it and the foreground plane. These works by Burne-Jones and Stanhope are also alike in that they are early expressions of the colour harmonies that would later become so important in the work of Aesthetic painters like James Whistler and Albert Moore. This is very noticeable in Stanhope’s watercolour version of The Wine Press that is very much a harmony in brown and gold, even carried over onto the frame. These early paintings by Burne-Jones and Stanhope show the influence of both Rossetti and Quattrocento Renaissance art. John Christian believed The Wine Press in particular was probably based on an early German or northern Italian source (63). The oil version is considerably larger than the watercolour and is also more colourful. It displays a much sharper chiaroscuro with a Christ figure of a much lighter complexion with his beautifully decorated robe featuring angels and other symbols and topped with a green mantle with its inner lining of red. The figure of Christ in the oil version, however, lacks the power, intensity, and emotional impact of the earlier watercolour version where Christ’s head is surrounded by a golden halo.

The Relation of The Winepress to Two Paintings by William Holman Hunt

Mrs. A.M.W. Stirling pointed out in her biography of her uncle Spencer Stanhope that his observation of French winemakers provided part of the inspiration fo the painting: "In 1864 he completed his picture, I have trodden the Wine-press alone, perhaps the finest work he ever executed…It was during a visit to Varennes in his youth that, watching the treading of the winepress by the French peasants, he evolved the design” (335).

Left: The Light of the World. Keble College, University of Oxford. Middle: The Shadow of Death. 1870-73. Oil on canvas, 94 x73.6 cm. Leeds Art Gallery, Leeds Museums and Galleries LEEAG.PA.1903.019 Gift from the executors of the estate of C. G. Oates, 1903 Right: Man of Sorrows with Hands Raisedk. Albrecht Dürer. c. 1500. Engraving. 4 ¼ x 2 ¾ inches. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Yor [Click on images to enlarge them.]

The painting also relates interestingly to three very different but closely related works by William Holman, Holman Hunt's The Light of the World (1851) and the later The Shadow of Death (1870-73). In Holman Hunt's painting the pose of Christ is almost exactly the same as in The Wine Press, apart from the angle of the head, and the figure has his arms extended in a very similar fashion and the weight is placed on the same foot. While Stanhope’s painting might possibly have influenced Hunt, it is much more likely that Hunt’s figure of Christ is based on his early, but long abandoned, Christ and the Two Marys (1847-1900). The original source for the pose of Christ in both Hunt's and Stanhope's paintings may be Albrecht Dürer's print Man of Sorrows with Hands Raised (Landow, 1979, 123). The Light of the World, perhaps the single most popular Victorian religious painting, has a clearer relation to the The Winepress: Like Hunt’s painting, the oil version, though not the watercolor, depicts Christ in majestic robes — precisely the point about which Thomas Carlyle criticized Hunt, telling him he had painted the Jesus of the rich and powerful whereas the nineteenth century needed an image of him as a worker.

Typological Symbolism in The Winepress

The Wine Press is an interesting example of the Victorian use of typological or prefigurative symbolism. Typology is a Christian form of interpretation of the scriptures that claims to discover divinely intended anticipations of Jesus Christ in the laws, events, and people of the Old Testament. There was a great revival of Biblical typology in the nineteenth century, and most Victorians would have been familiar with this concept and likely to recognize these scriptural allusions. According to Landow, the members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood read John Ruskin's Modern Painters, Volume II, and became convinced of the artistic value of using typology to reconcile the demands of realistic technique with the need for spiritual truths (1980, 3-5). Stanhope's The Wine Press is based on a passage from Isaiah LXIII: 3 "I have trodden the wine press alone and of the people there were none with me” that is inscribed on the slip of the painting’s frame. Christ’s portrayal in The Wine Press prefigures Christ's passion and crucifixion, with the pose symbolizing Christ suffering on the cross, and the wine symbolizing his blood, shed to redeem the sins of mankind. As Landow notes “'Christ, who is both victim and conqueror, treads the winepress and is crushed by it” (1980, 183).

The oil version of The Wine Press was first exhibited at the Thirteenth Annual Winter Exhibition of Ernest Gambart’s The French Gallery in 1865 where it was extensively reviewed. The critic of The Saturday Review criticized “Mr. Stanhope’s ‘Wine Press’" as “a mystic picture of Christ treading out grapes; it seems morbid, and is false in one point – the legs and feet are not stained with grape juice. We believe all attempts of this kind to realize a metaphor are mistaken. Such metaphors are right in written language, because there they are vague enough; but a painted metaphor is far too visible” (233). The reviewer of The Morning Post commented both on the work and the biblical quotation that accompanied it: “’The Wine Press’ (98) by Mr. Spencer Stanhope seeks to illustrate one of the most sublime passages in Scripture. ‘I have trodden the wine press alone, and of the people there were none with me, for I will tread them in mine anger and trample them in my fury, and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I shall stain all my raiment.’ There is in this text an awful sublimity, which exacts in the artist who would attempt to illustrate it the most poetic imagination, and indeed the highest order of inspiration. Nothing short of genius could cope with such a theme. Though the present picture cannot be said to fulfil those lofty requirements, it has nevertheless points of merit. Such, for example, are the spiritual beauty and the majestic yet benign and thoughtful expression of the Saviour’s face” (6).


Cristian, John. "Early German Sources for Pre-Raphaelite Designs." The Art Quarterly 36 (1973): 56-83.

Landow, George P. William Holman Hunt and Typological Symbolism. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979.

Landow, George P. Victorian Types, Victorian Shadows. Biblical Typology in Victorian Literature, Art and Thought. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980.

Stirling, Anna M.W. A Painter of Dreams and Other Biographical Studies. London: John Lane The Bodley Head, 1916.

The Morning Post, 20 November 1865.

“The Winter Exhibition.” The Saturday Review. 21 (24 February 1866): 232-33.

Last modified 6 September 2021