Monday, March 11, 2019

Odd Table Scene

Johnna Holloway sent me a link to the painting below and I'm going to add it to the list of Food Related Paintings on the website. It's a 16th century work by Frans Pourbus the Elder titled "The Prodigal Son Among Courtesans" and there's a lot going on here.

Source:  Wikimedia Commons

In terms of food the most notable item (for me) is the pie in the center of the table. At a guess I'd say it's a pear pie because it looks like it's got a pear rising up out of the middle. This is a total tangent but I can imagine it being something like the recipe below, which is English but from roughly the same time period.
To make a Tarte of Wardens. You must bake your Wardens first in a Pie, and then take all the wardens and cut them in foure quarters, and coare them, and put them into a Tarte pinched, with your Suger, and season them with Suger, Synamon and Ginger, and set them in the Ouen, and put no couer on them, but you must cutte a couer and laye in the Tart when it is baked, and butter the Tarte and the couer too, and endore it with suger.  [The Good Housewife's Jewell, (England, 1596)]

Ok, back to the painting - here's a closeup of the stuff on the table.

I assume the things on the plates at 12, 3, and 9 o'clock are loaves of bread.  The two similarly colored things on the platter with the pie might also be bread or maybe ... fruit?  The one to the left of the pie looks kind of like an egg.

It's hard to tell what the white stuff in the dish at around 1 o'clock. It's possibly a rice dish.

The white stuff in large bowl at 7 o'clock with a spoon is also kind of unknowable but it could be a soup like the following:
In the first instance, if you want to make a white brewet for capons or for pullets or for veal, so boil the capons or pullets or veal and take broth [from it] and set that aside. Then so peel almonds and pound them in pieces and then so temper them with the broth of the capons or veal, whichever you have. Then so put the almonds through a strainer (cloth) then shall you take white ginger powder, as much as you think good, then temper with verjuice and white wine. There you shall let it cook and then put in a good amount of sugar and look well that it be salted enough and when it has boiled a little put it in a clean pot alone. If you then wish to serve those capons or hens or veal so lay [them] in a dish and pour over them this aforesaid brewet. [Een notabel boecxken van cokeryen, (Netherlands, ca. 1510 - C. van Tets, trans.)]

The big questions though are the giant white domino at 8 o'clock and the platter of pokey red things at 4 o'clock.

The domino could be just that but there isn't any game related stuff on the table, so I don't think that's it (besides, the dots are wrong). I suppose it could also be bread carved into a brick shape but that doesn't seem right either.

There is one recipe that does come to mind though. It goes by many names such as Taylours or Lenten Slices and is essentially almond milk cooked until it's like jello which is then served in slices. As a bonus many of the variations of the recipe call for currants - which could be the spots on the pictured white brick.  Here's an English recipe from the same period:
27 - To make Leach of Almonds. Take halfe a pound of sweet Almonds, and beat them in a mortar; then strain them with a pint of sweet milke from the cow; then put to it one graine of musk, 2 spoonfuls of Rose-water, two ounces of fine sugar, the weight of 3 whole shillings of Isinglass that is very white, and so boyle them; and let all run thorow a strainer: then may you slice the same, and so serve it.  [Delights for Ladies (England, 1609)]

That just leaves the pokey red plate, and with this one I'm stumped.  Maybe a higher resolution image would help. As it is I can't tell if it's a dish of red stuff with things stuck into it or a pile of separate red things (part of my brain wants it to be Chinese barbecue chicken wings but I think that's just because I'm hungry.

Setting all of that aside, there is another question I have about this painting and it relates to the woman on the far right side.

Just what is that thing hung up on the wall and what is she doing to it. After talking with a few people about it I'm inclined to think it's a tally board and she's erasing it. But why? I'd guess it was a visual pun about erasing the (musical) "score" but, sadly, the musical connotation of "score" only goes back to 1701.

As for all the other stuff going on in the painting, I keep looking and thinking I'm missing some kind of in-joke. I'm open to suggestions.