Thursday, December 11, 2008

Food Related Painting of the Week

Vincenzo Campi, 1580s

(from the Web Gallery of Art)

Another late-medieval (depending on your viewpoint) painting by Vincenzo Campi. This one depicts a (assumed) fish merchant.

The group of people on the left (family?) immediately catch the eye. The man and woman are both holding bowls of what I assume are cooked beans (see Annibale Carracci's The Beaneater). Nice, simple bowls. Partly obscured view of the spoon the woman's holding. It's hard to tell what's on the table in front of them. I think the blocky, rock-shaped things are pieces of bread. It looks to me like there are dead mice on the plate, but I'm pretty sure that's not it. At the woman's feet is a pitcher with a bowl on top. My guess is that the bowl is being used a drinking vessel, and is filled with some of the wine (or whatever) that's in the pitcher.

On the other side, a young woman is dumping a large bucket of fresh (live?) fish onto the table for sorting. I'm not sure what the stick-like things just in front of her are. Next to her is a big, beautiful copper kettle with a knife.

The variety of seafood in the picture is very impressive. The big guy in the center is a sturgeon. There are at least a half-dozen other species of fish, along with scallops, oysters, clams, and crab. There's also a turtle under the table. Conspicuously absent are skates and rays - they usually show up in these sorts of paintings (see Pieter Aertsen's Market Scene). The one that really gets me though is the starfish at the bottom center. I don't think I've ever seen a recipe for starfish in a medieval cookbook, and from what I remember of biology class there isn't anything in a starfish that is edible. Are they just there as bycatch? Were they used for soup stock? Did Campi just include them because they look cool?

Another thing to check on as soon as I get a time machine.

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