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European union (Longing for Langelina)

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Image: Johann Friedrich Overbeck, Italia und Germania

Germany loves Italy and, in a painting by Friedrich Overbeck (Neue Pinakothek, Saal 4), the affection is mutual. Germania and Italia are represented as young women, one dark-haired, one blond. Behind the blonde on the right lies a walled town. On the left, shouldering the brunette, the landscape is more open; the dwellings are less defensive. In Overbeck’s own words, the general theme “intended is the longing that always draws the North to the South, to its art, its natural landscape, its poetry.”

Where there is a longing, there is opportunity. Cantina Langelina a Monaco is a well-oiled hospitality business built to target the North’s (latent) longings like a well-run mine is built to open veins of gold ore. Cantina Langelina includes a hotel business in Corinaldo (a town in the Marche region with fortifications that date back to the Late Middle Ages) and a vinothek in Munich on the Reichenbachstrasse just south of the Viktualienmarkt.

How do you define a vinothek? This one is a shop, a café and a wine-bar. It offers four house-branded wines and a much larger selection of cheese and meat. There’s a carefully crafted concept behind it all. As far as I have been able to see, the concept consists of at least three acts, which form an irresistible movement and an uncertain ending. First, Langelina (re-)ignites your longings. Second, Langelina provides relief. Third, it provides hope. I believe there may be additional acts and I hope to experience them, but only time will tell.

Life has become faster in the two-hundred years that have passed since Overbeck painted Italia and Germania. More longings and pseudo-longings compete for our attention and energy. This is why, in the first act of its movement, Cantina Langelina a Monaco provides a fresh frame for Overbeck’s theme.

The vinothek is an oasis of southern lightness in a city where beer and sausages can weigh heavily. The service is friendly and excellent. The cheese and  meat board (€ 9,90 / tagliere) is hearty. The wines (€ 4,90 / 0,2 l) — a red grape blend of Lacrima, Montepulciano and Sangiovese, a rosé blend of Lacrima and Verdicchio and a white blend of Verdicchio and Chardonnay — are all eager to please. Here is the sprezzatura that draws the northerner to the south like an insect to a glass of Amarone on a sunny day.

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Image: Self-portrait, Johann Friedrich Overbeck

 

Your first taste of Langelina reactivated a longing for the south. Where will it end? You’re in Munich, where bacchanals are beer-driven, dreaming of vines and olive trees. This is the kind of irreconcilable situation that crises are made of.

There’s no time for that; the second act of Langelina’s program is about to begin. Her aims for this act are as timeless as the longings that make it necessary. Friedrich Overbeck, who was German but settled in Italy, described them like this: “On the one hand, these two elements [Germany and Italy] face each other, to some extent, like strangers, but on the other hand it is and always will be my task to unite them, at least in the visible form of my work. And that is why I imagine them here as joined in a beautiful and deeply felt friendship.”

The painter has a canvas and paint to make a point; a vinothek has wine. Like Overbeck’s work, Cantina Langelina’s wines exist to  resolve differences. Synthesis comes in different flavors. Not all of them stay tasty for long.

The Cantina Langelina white wine is named Chardicchio after the two grape varieties that are married to make it: Verdicchio Bianco and Chardonnay. The rosé is Vercrima, which is Verdicchio married with Lacrima. The Chardicchio was pale, tart and refreshing while it was cold. But it began to wilt and stoop as it warmed up until its herbal character turned into an impression of a lightly chlorinated swimming pool.

Moving from Langelina’s white to its rosé, Verdicchio is the common ground. Luca Pollini, an Italian wine scholar, says the variety originated from the north: migrant farmers from Veneto introduced it to the Marche in the fifteenth century.

Cantina Langelina’s base in Corinaldo is well within Castelli di Jesi, the wine-region  famous for thoroughbred Verdicchio. In Italy, thoroughbred is abbreviated as DOC(G) and in Castelli di Jesi if you see these letters on a label it means the Verdicchio grape content is at least 85%.

None of the Cantina Langelina wines meet the requirements of DOC regulation. Does it matter? Only if you want it too! Some of Italy’s best and most expensive wines do not carry the highest stamps of authorised approval. Some characters work best in a bureaucracy, some require freedom to thrive, other’s don’t care.

The Vercrima is a perfect summer wine; with a rusty, bloody look and feel. This is all down to Lacrima,  a Marche specialty. Lacrima’s grapes have character: they emit small teardrops of juice when they’re ripe (Lacrima means teardrop). Lacrima’s acidity re-inforces Verdicchio’s rather than weighing it down like the Chardicchio’s Chardonnay. The Vercrima doesn’t collapse at room temperature. It stays tangy. It is a great rosé, a successful synthesis.

As the meat and cheese board neared its natural end, we ordered the Rosso Anch’io as an afterthought. This is a Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Lacrima blend, easy to drink, no complexity to worry about. It’s a wine you want to find at the back of your fridge on a hot day as you curse yourself for having finished all the Vercrima. Second best at most.

Fortified by Langelina’s wine, let’s move closer to the parapets of our fortified northern town. Beyond the walls in Overbeck’s painted allegory are the rolling hills of an open landscape, almost unspoilt. What is on Germania’s mind? What is the missing element in her daily northern life? “Know’st thou the land where lemon-trees do bloom / And oranges like gold in leafy gloom…?” Goethe’s question and Overbeck’s painting may have distilled a romantic German desire. But that was two centuries ago. It’s much easier to travel now. You could go to Corinaldo for a weekend. Doesn’t that change everything?

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Image: Franz Pforr, Allegorie der Freundschaft

 

It would cost € 300 to be in Corinaldo by midnight. Flights from Munich to Ancona take an hour. Then there’s a train from Ancona to Senigallia (15 mins) and presumably you’d find someone to take you the last 18 km inland to Corinaldo.

Like a halfway house, Cantina Langelina is open every day to help you on your journey. Every glass at the vinothek counts towards a holiday in one of Langelina’s affiliated Corinaldo hotels. One is in a former convent, another is in a re-designed palazzo.

Every € 4,90 glass of the Vercrima is worth 3 points with the loyalty card. The meat and cheese board yields 4 points. A weekend in a Cantina Langelina hotel is yours for 200 points, a week requires 800.

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Alternate between well-chilled glasses of Vercrima and bianco. Two glasses a day for thirty-three days will take you to the brink. Then you can sip on a final glass while you decide whether things are so urgent that you must get away now for the weekend. On the other hand, perhaps the routine has become pleasant enough and you’d like to stay a little longer?

Friedrich Overbeck didn’t have the luxury of economy airline travel at his disposal. You couldn’t just test the water for the weekend; you had to be committed to your ideals. After settling in Rome with a band of fellow young artistic rebels, he rarely travelled back. He was stuck in his promised land. An inconvenient one-thousand kilometre journey by horse-drawn carriage separated him from his former life.

But in 1855, he decided that the time had come. A growing rail network north of Milan had simplified the journey home. Old Overbeck made the trip.

Why go back north if your heart is in the south? Late second thoughts?

Overbeck’s journey home is the starting point of an essay by Lionel Gossman. It turns out that the facts are important if you want to understand Italia und Germania. Gossman traces the painting to Overbeck’s friendship with Franz Pforr. Together, Overbeck and Pforr were the two pillars of the artistic rebel movement (later known as the Nazarene movement) which quit the academy in Vienna (and a predictable artistic career in the north) in search of their artistic roots.

In around 1810, Overbeck and Pforr decided to cement their friendship in art: “each of them should paint a picture for the other that would display the essential beauty and character of his particular style of art…” to be conveyed “by two female figures, representing the tradition in painting that each had chosen.”

The two artists created female avatars to represent their longings: Overbeck called his figure Sulamith after the female voice in the Old Testament’s Song of Songs. Pforr had more modern tastes: he once described his muse as “a young, beautiful, fair-haired, tender and extremely appealing maiden, simply but tastefully attired… in short, such a maiden as Germany might have produced in the Middle Ages.”   He named her Maria. Overbeck sometimes worried that his friend was spending too much time thinking about his ideals.

All this explains why early drafts of the painting now known as Italia and Germania were titled Sulamith and Maria.

With the facts in mind, you see the picture differently. It turns out that the longing in the picture is mutual.  Even while longing for the South, Overbeck identified strongly with the German tradition. Similarly, while Pforr longed for an idealised medieval German beauty, he was delighted by the art of the south.

This is the stuff europhile dreams are made of: Italia represents Overbeck’s taste for the south, while Germania represents Pforr’s attraction to the north and each is attracted to the other’s vision while longing for the fulfilment of his own.

So why did Overbeck describe his painting in terms of one-sided longing: the “longing that always draws the north to the south?”

Well, those were his preferences. Italia was his muse by another name.

Don’t get distracted by mere words. Let’s trust our own eyes: the painting clearly shows that the South wants the North close by. If you can’t see it, here’s the expert opinion to back it up… Gossman quotes a fellow scholar who observes that “Maria [Germania] is … without doubt the more richly adorned and the stronger figure and it is she who is trying with words and gestures of encouragement to comfort the downcast Sulamith [Italia].”

I imagine that Pforr and Overbeck might have happily sat sipping Vercrima at Cantina Langelina. Both artists sought to reconcile two European traditions in their lives and works. In its own way Cantina Langelina achieves the reconciliation in its vinothek on the Reichenbachstrasse in Munich. Once you’re inside, don’t leave before you’ve sampled what’s on offer.

 

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