Three Cupids Playing with Vine Branches,
Engraving by Louis Félix de la Rue (1731–1765),
After François Boucher (1703-1770),
Mid 18th century
Etching and engraving on paper
© Metropolitan Museum, New York
I am the vine, you are the branches
John 15: 1-8
Jesus said to his disciples:
‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.
Every branch in me that bears no fruit he cuts away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes to make it bear even more. You are pruned already, by means of the word that I have spoken to you. Make your home in me, as I make mine in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, but must remain part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me.
I am the vine, you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me is like a branch that has been thrown away – he withers; these branches are collected and thrown on the fire, and they are burnt. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, you may ask what you will and you shall get it. It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit, and then you will be my disciples.’
Reflection on the engraving
Our Gospel reading is again taken from John’s account of what Jesus said to his disciples on the night before he died. He wants to assure them that beyond his death and resurrection he will remain in communion with them. The image he paints of the vine and the branches is a perfect expression of the depth of his communion with his apostles and with all of us. The branches are nothing without the stem of the vine.
It is, however, we ourselves who often cut ourselves off from the vine. We think we can do things on our own. But the invitation is always there to return to him and to re-attach ourselves to the vine. When we do that, we will reach our full potential and become the people God wants us to be.
Our mid 18th-century engraving after François Boucher shows three putti holding vine branches. Whilst this may be an allegory of Autumn in typical Rococo fashion, it can also be read as saying that the putti are seeking to re-attach the lost branches to the vine. As Paris veered on the brink of a revolt, King Louis XV and his court enthusiastically embraced François Boucher and his frivolous, idealising subjects. This subject of chubby, cute putti would have amused the elegant, aristocratic audience for whom these were made.
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