Museum Visit: Renaissance Table Settings

Last weekend we returned to the Bard Graduate Center Gallery for their “Setting the Table” exhibit, which featured period books and artifacts focused on two aspects of upper-class formal dining: one side of the gallery featured cutlery and carving guides, while the other exhibited fine linens and elaborate folding techniques.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I was more drawn to the knives and kitchen-related texts, while Alienor has spent the last week figuring out how to replicate some of the complex linen folds in paper.

One other element of the gallery signage particularly caught my eye, describing the relationship between the many books and informational charts that were published in the late sixteenth and throughout the seventeenth centuries. While some might consider the rampant reuse, emulation, and revision of others’ work in this pre-copyright era to be a shortcoming, the curators framed it as a dialog: “They borrowed freely from one another, engaging in a broad conversation in print across Europe.”

Sixteenth-century knife with hooked blade profile and pistol-grip handle. The cross shape on the blade is a maker’s mark.
Fifteenth- or sixteenth-century serving knives, well over a foot in length. These have a little bit of an edge on them, but they’re not intended as a serious carving knife, but more as a spatula, to deliver portions of a dish to each diner.
A set of modern replica knives made by Danilo Leon Todeschini based on illustrations from Scappi’s Opera.
A copy of Scappi’s Opera showing the frontispiece.
A second copy of Scappi’s Opera showing a procession of servers bringing dinner to the feast table.

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