Italian Renaissance cookbooks and books on the art of cooking inform one of the most interesting parts of the study. Varriano compares developments in food theory to developments in art theory. He shows, by many examples, how these two focal points of Renaissance thought are parallel.
Intellectual and culinary currents in the Renaissance are linked in ways I found remarkable. Early paintings used a background of gold, with rather stiff colors and skin tones in the human subjects. Painters slowly developed more naturalistic ways to present human forms -- and in this process, they employed a number of food substances. Egg as a medium for tempera, a number of different oils as a medium for paint, and pigments from foods like saffron provided a variety of effects that the innovative artists explored. Renaissance cooks, meanwhile were also developing new uses for oils, eggs, and of course many other foods. Varriano summarizes these trends:
"By 1500 oil had replaced eggs as artists' binder of choice, whereas cooks continued to choose from an array of possibilities. Whichever method they adopted, it derived from somewhere else -- oil paint from Flanders, cooking oil from Arabia, and butter from northern Europe. Collectively, these ingredients became essential to the creation of Italian Renaissance tastes; indeed, many of the visual and gustatory refinements of the period could not have taken place without them." (p. 159)
|Cellini Salt Cellar|
Tastes and Temptations also discusses the development, in this era, of different types of elegant tableware, including pottery dishes decorated with classical figures and elaborate metalworks. I've seen many of these in art museums, and felt that the description gave me quite a bit of insight into what I've seen. The famous gold salt cellar of Benvenuto Cellini, shown above, is one of these objects.
|"The Bean Eater"|
"Judging from the man's garb and demeanor, he is clearly a villino, or country bumpkin. The meal so carefully laid out before him is consistent with the peasant diet... beans, dark bread, a torta da bietola (chard pie), scallions, and red wine -- all foods 'not to be eaten except by those who labor hard.' But in this context, the food probably signifies something more than lower-class humors and appetites."(p. 139)In fact, scallions "incite the libido... Thus, a link between food, sex, and procreation may underlie the eroticism of many of these Italian genre scenes," continued Varriano. He gave illustrations from various writers about the effect of foods on the humors -- that is, Renaissance health theories, and showed how these theories were reflected in various paintings. All, I find, just fascinating.