Renaissance banquet

The Renaissance banquet is an art form that combines the taste of the show with music and the table.

“A magnificent feast, all shade, dream, chimera, fiction, metaphor and allegory.”

(Christopher of Messisbugo, Banchetti, Composers of food and general apparatus, Ferrara, 1549)
It is a representation of power that is expressed through the ostentation of the symbols of the table through which the greatness of the prince is exalted.

This form of art, where magnificence is the key word, takes shape probably in Naples and then spreads to the courts of northern Italy with the marriage of Ercole I d’Este and Eleonora d’Aragona. It then reaches the highest levels of refinement in the period between the reign of Hercules II and that of the last Duke of Ferrara Alfonso II: at that time, Ferrara was defined “the first truly modern city in Europe”.

In addition to the spectacular set-ups and the artistic culinary compositions, the Renaissance banquet is characterized by the Art of Fine Serving orchestrated by the “Office of the mouth” composed by the scalp, the carving knife and the cup- bearer, each kept to a very ritualized gesture. The object of real technical treatises was the figure of the carver that skillfully cut the meat into the air and taste the food. The cup-bearer, in charge of wine service, also had the competence to make beliefs, that is to say, to ensure that the drink was not poisoned. From this expression also derives the name beliefgiven to the display of furnishings ready to be used in the banquet. Among all these professions associated with the table the figure of the dapìfero (bearer of food) was also important.

The banquet is often preceded by a carousel, a palio, a ring race, a game of goose or pork, masked and Moorish (when the party is concomitant of the carnival) or a pompous procession with carts and triumphal arches through the city.

The rooms of the building are embellished to offer the guests an enchanted world: just before their arrival, the tapestries, the carpets, the corami (worked leather) are arranged in the hall, together with the ephemeral arrangements that make up the mobile decoration of the banquet, kept in the prince’s wardrobe. This sumptuous setting frame represents rural and playful subjects, prospects of gardens and landscapes to which borders with naturalistic motifs are added (plants, flowers or cherubs).

The beginning of the actual banquet was announced to the sound of trumpets and tambourines that was repeated at each new course. It was customary to invite to the banquet an audience of spectators made up of bourgeois, artisans and religious. Lunch was usually accompanied by music and theatrical performances. The number of courses could be impressive, with hundreds of dishes.

Set up
The first text that describes the preparation of the table for a long time can be found in the manual Il libro de cozina, written by Robert de Nola, at the beginning of the 16th century. Beyond the iconographic sources, even the scythes Cristoforo da Messisbugo, Giaccomo Grana, Vincenzo Cervio and Giovan Battista Rossetti provide precise chronicles.

The furniture for the table and the sideboards was often designed and created by great artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Benvenuto Cellini, Tiziano, Giulio Romano, Andrea del Sarto…

The settings were all spectacular especially for wedding banquets like the one made for the marriage of Alfonso II and Barbara of Austria in December 1565: in his book, Rossetti left us, among others, a detailed description of the fabrics that had a primary role when the room was transformed into an imaginative marine world with rocks and caves lined with turquoise ormesino and scales of gold, all dressed in green velvet, and those who served the first courses, which were three, all of them flakes of gold, others with less expense, tables with three tablecloths and aabove mantile, which did not fall from the bands, which arose when the cold rose without anyone’s scorn, it was this mantle above all worked of very fine sea wave cloth cimadure, with various monsters above. The napkins were folded in the shape of various fishes with thin scales of silver in various marine colors, which wipes off, remained the clean soda towel, and candid.

The carnival day was also an opportunity to organize banquets. According to the Compendium, February 14, 1548, the ducal table was illuminated by silver lamps suspended from the floor so as not to lose sight. Beyond the mantles, the table was laid out with four silver salt, and for each person a napkin and a knife, a bread and a crescentina, sugar and egg yolks.

Silverware is widely used, taking part in the greatness of the service. Essential furniture of the dining room, the most beautiful pieces were displayed outdoors on the sideboards or placed on the first table: while for the furniture and cutlery of the other tables, the materials used were more vile (brass, iron or pewter).

In the inventories of the post-mortem goods of the principles, such as that of Giovanni Andrea Doria, there are enumerated hundreds of silver parade furnishings (often with fanciful shapes and decorative motifs). And there are always present jugs with basins, cutlery, plates, cups, glass, fruit bowls, confectioner, salt shakers, vases, flasks, baker, sugar bowls, egg cups, dish warmer, perfume maker, candlesticks… In the inventory of goods cardinal Ercole Gonzaga, each object is listed with its weight in silver (in brand, ounce and money).

The maximum splendor of the beliefs is obtained in the workshops of majolica masters located in Faenza and Urbino where the second and third bridal beliefs of Alfonso II are commissioned. Famous is also the service from belief in stained majolica created by Niccolò Pellipario (called Nicola da Urbino) for Isabella d’Este.

With its innovative products and incomparable finesse, the Venetian glassmaker (Isabella d’Este was a great customer of Murano furnaces) will remain, throughout the Renaissance, the reference home furnishings of stately palaces: between the glass pottery present in the canteens are inge, pilgrim flasks, goblets, cups, water- colors and dishes in colored glass or pure crystal with enamel decoration. In the sixteenth century, the supplies of glass in vogue are also with filigree decoration (types “a retortoli”, “a reticello” or “lattimo”), while in the second half of the sixteenth century, from the renaissance dwellings is prized the glass “ice” semi-opaque.

In Renaissance gastronomy, the most significant of the status symbols of the table was sugar (also called “Cyprus powder”) that could cover and embellish all sorts of food, especially sweets, which were presented at the table in the form of incredible works of goldsmithery. And, in choosing sugar, Castore Durante advised that the best should be very white, serious, hard and very hard to break.

Throughout the banquet the bittersweet and spicy taste dominated, obtained through condiments such as the agresto. They were served all kinds of wild feathered or furred, especially wading birds and fowl: highly sought was the cormorant from the beginning of the sixteenth century, then, between 1555 and 1650, the swan, the stork, the ‘ heron, the crane and the peacock. The river or the fishponders supplied fresh fish: the sturgeon and the alosa were extremely prized.

For the wines served at table, Messisbugo recommended to make provisions for Malvasia, Racese (wine from Liguria), Magnaguerra (produced in Campania), Vernaccia, Trebbiano, Siruolo (Marche wine), Greco Tuscan, of Greco di Somma Vesuviana, of Graspia, of Corso (wine of Corsica), of Sanseverino of Campania, of Romanic Latin. Paul III, a great enophile, recommended by his bottle- holder Sante Lancerio, appreciated numerous wines, in particular the Monterano wine. insteadIppolito d’Este preferred to offer his guests French wines.

Lunch is accompanied by musicians who play and sing, in particular to break the repetitive cadence of the long sequence of courses. In his Dialogues Massimo Troiano informs us accurately about the different instruments and pieces played on the occasion of the wedding celebrations between William V of Bavaria and Renata di Lorena: for the first life, the musicians played a seven-piece motet of Orlando di Lasso, with five tall croissants, and two trombones. And then to the sound of trumpets, and tabalini, came out of the kitchen from the second life […] And the musicians played more works to six, and among the others a very sweet madrigal of Alessandro Striggio, with six big trombones, the bass goes eight voices lower of the other communes, after the sound of trumpets and tabards, the third meal was brought […] And there were various sonatas, six and one among the others of Cipriano de Rore with six viola of arm; even the fourth plate is brought […] And here were made various and beautiful concerts, to dodeci, works of Annibale Padovanoand other authors, compiled with six violin violets, five trombones, a croissant […] In the evening then in the sumptuous dinner among other interventions, Orlando di Lasso had a five-man opera by Maddalena Casulana sing…. Other composers of music for various festive occasions are Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Philippe de Monte, Costanzo Festa, Adrian Willaert, Alfonso della Viola and Girolamo Parabosco.

The iconographic sources also present significant musical details, particularly with the theme of the Wedding at Cana. For example, in Ferrara, in three decades, between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, six paintings were made (four versions of the Wedding at Cana, a Dinner in the house of Simon and a Convitto of Assuero) of banquet scenes where musicians are depicted.

In addition to being recited for Holy Week and carnival, theatrical performances are also part of the intermezzos of the banquets. Pietro Aretino, Ludovico Ariosto and Ruzante, all intellectuals at the service of the courts, occupy a special place. For the Ferrara Estense, Ariosto, in addition to the furious Orlando, will write funny plautin inspired comedies, such as La Cassaria and La Lena.

Source from Wikipedia