Coffee Comes To Europe, 1615

Coffee Comes to Europe, 1615 - Coffee on Canvas Board - 16" x 20"
Coffee Comes to Europe, 1615 – Coffee on Canvas Board – 16″ x 20″

By the 17th Century, coffee had made its way to Europe and was becoming increasingly popular across the whole continent. The opposition were overly cautious, calling this new beverage from the Arab lands the “bitter invention of Satan”. With the arrival of coffee to Venice in 1615, the local clergy immediately condemned it; causing a controversy so great that Pope Clement VIII was asked to intervene. The Pope decided to try the beverage before making his decision and he found the drink so satisfying that he gave it Papal approval.

In relation to my identity and following the theme “Who are you?”,  I wanted to create a piece of work that not only told a story, but also related and described my own personality through symbolism, thus creating an artwork with two meanings.

The painting that I created is a narrative piece and was painted entirely using coffee as my medium. It depicts when coffee first came to Europe, arriving in Venice in 1615 aboard a merchant ship, awaited and opposed by the clergy. This entire piece is full of symbolism pertaining to who I am and my identity, so I’ll have to break it down into further parts.

Coffee as a medium Every single morning of my life is centred around one very important, and never-changing ritual, coffee. It begins every single morning of my life and continues on into the day. That being the case, plus with the exhibition being set up on a table in the college Atrium Café, it made sense to me to use coffee as my medium to paint with. In my research of coffee I delved into the history and discovered plenty of opportunities to create a narrative painting, which is my favourite form of art, art that tells a story.

Venice I decided to base my narrative in Venice as this is where coffee came into Europe and the story behind it really appealed to me to create a narrative scene of. Also, I have a very deep fondness of Italy and it is intrinsic to a lot of what I do, to the point that my love of Italy is almost an obsession, this made my choice of story to tell very easy and enjoyable at the same time. My scene is based atRiva Degli Schiavoni, with the isle of San Maggiore faded in the distance across the entrance to Venice’s Grand Canal.

The Clergy – The clergy, depicted standing on a small jetty, in opposition of the merchant ship bringing coffee to port, are symbolic of the opposition I feel I face with artwork, whether real or imagined it seems that in the Contemporary art industry, traditional painting and values are frowned upon and neglected, whilst Conceptual art, Installation and challenging conventions is what is the art that wins awards and sells.

Whilst the clergy show how close I feel to opposition, the distant view of the church San Giorgio di Maggiore shows how far I feel from salvation, not in a religious sense but a metaphorical one, in the industry I’m entering.

Myself – I depicted myself literally into this painting as well; situated to the right of the narrative scene I am sitting in a small boat, sketching the scene before me into a book. This shows my personality, my introversion, close by and very aware of the events unfolding around me and sketching what I see; at the same time situated solitarily, alone but comfortable to be so, concentrating on what I’m seeing and analysing it onto the paper.

This is the first piece of work that I have created entirely how I want to and have been able to project a narrative through which not only tells a story, but describes aspects of myself within it.

This work was exhibited at the Atrium Café for the day in my first real exhibition and the feedback that I received was incredible, very encouraging comments were made and a lot of interest was shown in both the work itself and the meanings behind it.

JG

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