Title   Aqua vita (Search for the image)
Translated title Brandywine
Intro Text by dr D. Barnes, accompanying Bramer’s drawing of a waiter of brandywine (`brandewijn verkoopster’)

Code of occupational group 53210
Description A woman sits behind a wooden table covered with a cloth. Two square-shaped bottles, a flat bowl used to rinse two small drinking glasses, and a free-standing drinking glass are on the table. The woman's right hand is on the top of one bottle; and she holds a drinking glass in her left hand. She leans forward talking to a man standing in front of the table who is drinking a glass of the brandy. The man, wearing a soft cap, is a laborer and has a tool or possibly a knife in a sheath, suspended from his waist. His right hand is on his hip; his head is thrown back; and he drinks thirstily from the upturned glass in his left hand. They are outside on the street in front of a tall building with a heavy wooden door and two large windows with diamond-shaped panes which are flanked on either side by carved stone columns. Two smaller buildings are visible at the left in the background.

"Aqua vita" was a generic term used to cover many distilled alcoholic beverages, including brandies made from grapes, as well as other fruits such as raspberries, cherries, plums, and pears, and distilled barley grain gins. The Dutch were notorious and prodigious drinkers at home and in taverns, despite moralist objections from preachers. They had Dutch-brewed beers and imported wines available. The extensive Dutch wine trade involved shipping French Bordeaux and Burgundies, German Rhine wines, Spanish Malaga, Italian Marsala, and Portuguese wines to consumers all over Europe as far east as Russia.

In the second half of the century, the Dutch became famous for "genever" or gin, so much so that during the hostilities with England, British propagandists published poems and mocking prints caricaturing the Dutch besotted with gin.* Gin was initially distilled in the port of Schiedam, outside Rotterdam, but soon was available in most Dutch cities and towns.

There are many Dutch genre paintings depicting people drinking: peasant taverns or fairs, with men quaffing beer from metal tankards; "merry companies" of wealthy men-about-town enjoying wine, often with women of ill-repute; garden parties where very well-dressed men and women are drinking wines; bordello scenes in which drinking is a prelude to fornication; doctors sip- ping a glass of wine while making housecalls to love-sick women; and domestic interiors of celebratory families partying or women entertaining visiting suitors or military officers.

Furthermore, any number of Dutch still lifes feature fluted wine glasses, wine roemers, or stoneware beer steins. The image of square-sided bottles, for wine or brandywine, is familiar in Dutch art. See Jan Steen's boy pouring one taken from a wine cooler into a metal wine flagon in "Easy Come, Easy Go" (Museum Boijmans-van Beuningen). Bramer, himself, used the image of the square-sided wine bottle and wine cooler in his New Testament illustration of the Last Sup- per and Judas' betrayal of Jesus (Rijksprentenkabinet). In Brebiette's "Cris de Paris," folio 22, the brandy seller is a man who has drinking glasses and four bottles to offer his customer. Bramer's peddler might be selling either brandy or wine, but is probably not offering gin.

Source Donna R. Barnes, Ed D, Street scenes, Leonard Bramer's drawings of seventeenth-century daily life (Hofstra Museum exhibition 1991). Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York.

Click here for the introductory essay on Bramer's drawings.

Notes * See Simon Schama's discussion in The Embarrassment of Riches.


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