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Issue 21 - The art of the matter

Whisky Magazine Issue 21
February 2002

 

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The art of the matter

Brian Hennigan swaps palate for palette as he takes you on an irreverent journey through the whisky-loving Renaissance and sipping surrealists to modern art and its relationship with malts

Most of us would be hard-pressed to operate an Etch-a-Sketch with a few tumblers of Scotland's finest inside us, while artists by their very nature respond as if newly enlightened to the touch of spirit in the belly.

“I feast on wine and bread, and feasts they are,” said Michelangelo, a man fond of a nip and the world's most famous interior decorator. Forbidden from endorsing anything other than Benedictine as part of his Vatican contract, few know he was in fact referring to malt whisky, brought to Rome by the much-invoked Friar John Cor. “Eight bolls of malt to Friar John Cor wherewith to make acqua vitae,” notes the exchequer roll of 1494, the earliest recorded evidence for whisky and a quotation that is compulsory in any whisky article. Friar John was the first to realise the importance of the Italian market for whisky. His pioneering work with painters of the period resulted in many masterpieces and his own reputation as the most successful High Renaissance parallel importer. Doubters of whisky's importance to art history need only gaze upon the recently uncovered preparation work for the Sistine Chapel, where the Hand of Adam is seen stretching toward a bottle of Grant's Sherry Reserve. (John Cor was to achieve greater fame when he and his convent-schooled sisters set up a madrigal pop combo who toured Europe to the delight of their record label and the disappointment of audiences, a tradition maintained by their descendants).

The relationship between whisky ...

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