Libation Titillation - Popular/American Culture Association Website

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Libation Titillation - Popular/American Culture Association Website
Adrienne Mayor
Libation Titillation:
Wine Goblets and Women's Breasts
warrant
'rr
.lil,i #15 :l iX".ll}r",
-Sheridan,
the glass !
School for Scandal, l7 7 7
Over the rim ofthe glass . .
.
-*,n"1"/i,ltria"# a*;'trii"J,ft xtrI,,.,,, u
To "kick offthe new art season" of faII 1993 in SoHo, the New York
Times "Styles" section (19 September 1993) featured photographs of
socialites, celebrities, and art patrons attending a series ofgallery openings and parties. In the lead photo, Gwendolyn Fisher wears a "cocktail
dress with cutouts resembling champagne glasses" on the bodice just
under the bust. Her companion, gallery owner Pablo Van Dijk, pretends to
hold the stem of one of the cutouts, grving the impression of cupping
Fisher's breast in his goblet (Figure 1). The setting is chic, sophisticated,
but the image, as well as its conceit, is an updated, elite version of a clich6
with roots in both low and high culture.
The art patron's witty cocktail dress with revealing cutouts that
appear to support her breasts echoes a well-known photograph ofanother
art-world celebrity taken twenty years earlier by He1mut Newton, renowned for his contrived images of artistic decadence (Figure 2). In the
1973 photo, Paloma Picasso wears a cocktail dress (by designer Karl
Lagerfeld) and holds a highbail glass strategically overher exposed breast.
Picasso appears to be toasting her own bosom in a composition that is
remarkably similar to the pose affected byVan Dijk as he pretends to toast
the breast of Gwendolyn Fisher (Figure 1). Picasso's glass is tall and
cylindrical, but the visual simile conveys the same erotic conceit of a
woman's breast suspended in a wineglass. The austere straight-sided
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69
Mayor
o.)
pagne coupe (personal communications, Josiah Ober, Ann Arbor, Mich.,
1977;Robert Wallace, Chapel Hil1, N.C., 1984).
In the 1950s, these sentiments were supplanted by Playboy's expanded requirements for bosomy perfection. The magazine's heyday
coincided with the preoccupation of the American male with rating a
woman's beauty according to her bra cup size (see Stern and Stern 1990,
s.v. "breasts, enormous"). Other periodicals in the "men, sophisticated"
category are more up front about their frxation; for example,Gent (established in 1960, with a circulation of 150,000 in 1993) calls itself the "Home
of the D-Cup." "Crp" (from Latin cuppd and German kopp for drinking
vessel) itself is a predictable unit of measurement, in view of the tendency
to identify breasts with beverage containers (the word coupe, for the
saucer-type champagne glass, also derives from cuppa). Graduated cup
sizing for bras originated in the 1930s, shortly after the late 1920s
invention of the brassiere with separate cups created by sewn darts
(O'Hara 1986, s.v. "brassiere").
Among the items sold in twentieth-century gag and novelty shops is a
"big nipple that fits on the top ofbeer cans" (Stern and Stern 1991: 136).
This crude metaphor is made aesthetically palatable in "sophisticated"
settings by associating bosoms with champagne and wine goblets. The
appearance of this timeworn image at elite gallery openings, in elegantly
shocking photogr:aphs, and in debonair Broadway shows could be read as
an attempt to appropriate and refine longstanding popular coarse expressions comparing breasts to drinking vessels: 'Jrg.," "cream-jugs," "da.rries," "milk bottles," "teacups" (1700s to present, British and U.S. slang,
Spears 1981, s.v. "bosom").
Perhaps in an attempt to distance themselves from the r,rrlgar associations of champagne goblets and breasts, one school of elite champagne
devotees has long argued that the "tall-stemmed tapering" flute is more
"soberly elegant" compared to the d6class6 coupe, which came into middleclass fashion in the early Victorian era. Reasons for preferring the less
mammiform flute usually invoke the physical dynamics ofgas bubbles, the
bouquet, and other oenological desiderata, but the remarks ofthe literary
critic George Saintsbury, in 1920, are revealing. In discussing the correct
glass for wine, Saintsbury especially deplores the tumbler because "there
is no stem for the finger tips to play with," and "a wine-glass without a stem
is as bad as some other creatures without a waist" (Forbes 1967:362,364;
Saintsbury 1939:186-87). Saintsbury's sentiments not only participate in
the metaphor of wineglass as woman's body, but they enhance the
perversity of the aesthetic message of Helmut Newton's 1973
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65
Mayor
coupe goblet is a typical Romantic image (Figure
3). A nymph entwined around or posed inside a
wineglass was a respectable Art Nouveau and
Art Deco theme in the nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries (Figure 4), and Lalique crystal stemware featured women's forms. MeanwhiIe, illustrations of lingerie-clad women suggestively frlling, holding, or offering wineglasses
were favorite icons in "spicy" pulp magazines
since the 1930s (Figure 5), and plastic
swizzlesticks in the shape of shapely women
allow everyman to have a nymph in his glass
6).3 The simile lends itselfto ironic interpretation in the art world and mass culture
(Figure
alike. Just as Newton's aesthetically erotic photograph (Figure 2) depends for its frisson on
subtly subverting the expectations of his cultured audience, so the anonymous photograph
from an unidentified men's magazine achieves
Figure
4.
in
a
"Woman
Glass." Paintingby Leo Putz,
1897. From Rheims, Tlre
Flowering of Art Nouueau.
$$vsk&t!n
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5. Cover art, Bedtime Stories 4, 10 (August 1936) and Gay Parisienne 7,17
(November 1937). Reprinted by Kitchen Sink Press, "Spicy," 1992.
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67
Mayor
changed since Amman's day: cf.
Figure 7).
Refrned gentlemen appear to
toast ladies with bumpers ofwine
in Figure 11; they lift their cuPs
to the level of the women's
bustlines. Indeed, traditions
about the origins oftoasting also
pair women's beauty and wine in
ways that commingle refinement
and vulgarity. Toasting was supposedly inaugurated when a beau
pledged his love to a well-known
beauty in the court of Charles II
(1630-85) with "a glass of water
Figure 8. "Blank escutcheon," woman with taken from her bath."a The anug and wine-bowl, woodcut by Jost Amman, tiquity of the gesture of "toast-
1539-9f
ingl' a woman's breast with a
wine-cup is suggested by the typical erotic scene painted on a fifth-century
B.C. drinking cup from ancient Greece (Figure 12).
In Figure 13, Amman places a large "double bumper" between a
courting couple. A bumper is a wine chalice fi11ed to the brim, often
decorated with bulging bosses, as
in Figures 1 1 and 13; "bumper" also
refers to something unusually large
or abundant ( 1600s on, from bump,
to bulge, swell out, or be protuberant). By drawing the viewer's eye to
the bumper's two bulging globes
placed immediately next to the bod-
ice of the elegantly dressed lady,
Amman transposes and reveals the
woman's bosom in the wine goblet.
We should also note that
"breast" is one of the dictionary
meanings of "bump," and that
"bumpers" is British and U. S. slang
for breasts (since the mid-1900s).5
The connotations ofthe word "cock-
tail" also drawtogetherwomen and
Figure 9. Woodcut, bare-breasted woman
with goblet. Amman.
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a
Mayor
69
from "Princess Cocktel, daughter ofKingAxolotl VIII ofMexico"
(quoted by Bevis 1968, pp. 6364); other versions mention "an
Aztec princess Xochitl, who is
supposed to have given a drink to
the king with romantic results"
(Evans 1981, s.v. "cocktail"). On
the other hand, "cocktail" was
aiso nineteenth-century slang for
aharlot (Spears, 1981, s.v. "cocktail"). Once again, popular culture nurtures high culture's
tastes.
Notably, the notorious knockout Helen of Troy was celebrated
in earlier times as the inventor of the "cocktail," since in Homer's Odyssev
she originated the idea of serving wine as an aperitif before the meal.
Helen, the classical embodiment ofideal feminine beauty, was also famed
for shamelessly exposingher splendorous breast to save herlife at a crucial
moment (Homer Od. 4.220; Pliny the Elder Nat. Hist. 23.23; Little lliad
fragment). Thus "cocktails" and bared breasts have been implicitly linked
in literature, art) and legend since
Figure 12. Satyr toasting maenad with drinking horn. Painted rhyton,43O B.C.
antiquity.
Ifthe compelling logic of equatperfectly
proportioned bosoms
ing
and wine goblets is as unavoidable
and pervasive as this brief review
ofthe history of the clich6 suggests,
it should come as no surprise to
discover the comparison explicitly
expressed in yet another Helen legend. According to Pliny the Elder,
writing during the reign of Nero in
the first century A.D., tourists visiting the island of Rhodes could
admire an exquisite electrumcalix
(chalice or wine-cup) in the local
temple of Athena. This celebrated
silver and gold cup was said to have
Figure 13. Woodcut, "Gentleman and lady
and man with double bumper." Amman.
70
Studies in Popular Culture
been a gift from Helen herself. The vessel's real claim to fame, however,
was not its precious metal or its antiquity, but the popular belief that the
goblet had been fashioned to perfectly represent Helen's fabled breast
(Pliny 23.81).
In the 1920s, Maurice des Ombiaux, the prolific French wine enthusiast, elaborated on this legend in "Le Sein d'H6ldne" (The Breast of Helen).
In his sensual and risqu6 narrative, Dionysus, Apollo, and Venus "decided
to associate Helen with the enchanted juice of the grape . . . by raising to
their lips a chalice molded from her breast." They summoned Helen's lover
Paris to take a wax impression of her unveiled breast (pink as the dawn,
white as milk, with a nipple like a berry, and glowing like an alabaster
vase). "As soon llte coupe had been fa'shioned" from the wax form, it was
raised to the lips of Helen's suitors, each of whom "experienced the divine
illusion that he was drinking from the breast of' the most beautiful woman
in the world (translated in Forbes 1967:363).
55 AikenAvenue
Princeton, New Jersey 08540
Notes
1 See
Edmunds 1981 for a structuralist analysis of the ambivalent meanings of the
martini and other popular drinks. A bold, masculine drink like the martini demands a nononsense straight-sided glass, hence the traditional con-shaped martini glass (pp.21,26,
79, 105-107). Edmunds discusses the sexual symbolism ofcocktails in literature from Scott
Fitzgerald to James Bond, including the poem used in the second epigraph. conversations
with Robert Wallace and Josh Ober first brought the popular associations between
champagne classes and breasts to my attention. I thank Josh Ober for helpful comments.
2
where, presumably, the queen liked to dress in the costume of a milkmaid. one of
still exists, inthehands oftheAntique companyofNewyork,Inc.: a colorphoto
of it appears on the dust-jacket of the third edition (1g77) of Forbes's 1g6T book
Champagne.Iamgrateful to FrankPrialforthis informationandreferringmeto Forbes's
these cups
book.
3 see
strang's working women: An Appealing Look at the Appalring [.Jses and Abuses
of the Feminine Form (1984) for examples of plastic drink accessories in the shapes of
curyaceous women and fine crystal glasses in feminine forms, esp. pp. 18,20, 61. I thank
Marcia Mogelonsky for bringing Strang,s book to my attention.
a Reported in Tatler, .,o. 24, quoted in Evans 1981, s.v. ,.Toast.,,
Cf. the rrrlgar
twentieth-century expression, "I'd drink her bath water.,,
Mayor
71
5
Whether or not "bumpers" for breasts is related directly to brim-frlled toasting cups,
or inspired by the automotive term, the same root is involved: "bump," something that
protrudes. See Spears l98l; Webster's Srd; Random House Dictionary; ODE;, s.vv.
"bump," "bumpers."
Works Cited
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