Thursday, April 30, 2009

Food Related Painting of the Week

January: A Kitchen
Antonio Tempesta (Italy, Florence, 1555 - 1630)

January: A Kitchen
(from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art)

It's been a while since I babbled on about a painting, so it's about time for another.

A few days ago, someone (thanks, Johnnae!) posted a link to this etching to one of the mailing lists I follow. There was a brief discussion about the items and equipment being used and the thread died down. Basically it centered around the spigots at the sink on the left, and the women nearby apparently plucking poultry. Those aren't what first caught my interest in this image.

The first thing I saw was the stark division of the kitchen.

The table in the center splits the kitchen in half, and separates the functions of cooking and service. It also serves to keep servers, dishwashers, and other non-cooks out of the way of the cooks (and vice-versa). This is surprisingly similar to my preferred setup for cooking medieval feasts (and how many - most? - modern restaurant kitchens work as well).

The second thing I saw was that the dining setup wasn't what I expected.

I'm used to seeing either a U-shaped arrangement of tables with the feasters sitting around the outside, or (in smaller or less formal settings) a single table with the feasters sitting around it. Here the tables are set out as one very long table, and it's hard to be sure but I think the feasters are seated only on the side at the far right. On the left side, opposite the table, is what I believe to be a side-board. It has big serving platters on display, and would probably also have an array of sweets or the like set out during the feast.

After these I started looking at smaller details.

Various pots and pans are being stored on high shelves over the sink. Presumably this would help keep them clean and out of the way. Similarly, there are a couple of cooking implements being stored on the hood over the fire.

The food on the plates (bowls? they look kind of deep to be plates) about to be served is covered with another plate. Is it to keep stuff from falling into the food? I don't think so, because the food on the flatter plates isn't similarly covered. Perhaps it's to keep wetter foods from sloshing, or maybe to help keep the food warm until it reaches the feasters.

I initially thought that the things sticking out of the meats being roasted over the fire were the small skewers that help keep the meat from sliding around and to turn when the spit turns, but it looks like they're still on the meat that the cook is putting onto the table to be served. So I suspect those are pieces of fat inserted into the meat to help keep it moist (a process called larding).

Finally, an odd little detail: on the table in the lower right corner of the image is a small round thing that looks like a drawer knob. Is that really a drawer? I don't think I've seen drawers in medieval artwork before, but then again that's not something I've been paying attention to - up until now.

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