Feasts for the Eye
It’s almost time for Thanksgiving! Here are some tasty works of art from the museum’s galleries for inspiration.
In this relief from ancient Egypt, a priest carries long stalks of papyrus plants and a basket containing loaves of bread and small cakes. Egyptian bakers were making leavened bread (bread which uses a rising agent like yeast) by 2600 BC. Varieties with flavors still used in contemporary baking like poppy and sesame seeds have been discovered preserved in tombs, although those are flatter and somewhat coarser than similar modern types. Cake, too, was different -- heavier and thicker than what 21st-century diners would be used to, ancient Egyptian cake was sweetened with honey and often included nuts or dates.
Silver Wine Jug, Ham, and Fruit, c. 1660-1666. Abraham van Beyeren (Dutch, 1620/21-1690), oil on canvas, Framed: 124.50 x 108.00 x 8.50 cm (49 x 42 1/2 x 3 5/16 inches); Unframed: 99.70 x 82.60 cm (39 1/4 x 32 1/2 inches). Mr. and Mrs. William H. Marlatt Fund 1960.8
Sumptuous still-life scenes were popular in the Netherlands during the 1600s. In Abraham van Beyeren’s painting, a marble-topped table covered in dark blue velvet holds a tempting spread: ham on a silver platter, and peaches, grapes, and lemons. Although paintings like this celebrated the abundance gained from an expansion of international trade at the time, they also served as a reminder of the passage of time and the idea that wealth and luxury would not last forever.
Keros, a type of cup with concave sides, were traditionally made in pairs for the ritual exchange of chicha, an alcoholic beverage made from fermented corn. This cup comes from the Tiwanaku culture, a South American civilization that predated the Inca. The Inca also made cups in this same shape, both before and after the Spanish conquest of the Andes in the 1500s.
Tureen, 1735-1738. Juste-Aurèle Meissonnier (French, 1695-1750), Pierre-François Bonnestrenne (French), Henry Adnet (French, 1745), silver, Overall: 36.85 x 38.40 x 31.80 cm (14 1/2 x 15 1/16 x 12 1/2 inches); Average: 35.00 x 38.40 x 31.80 cm (13 3/4 x 15 1/16 x 12 1/2 inches). Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. Fund 1977.182
Originally part of a formal meal service including another matching tureen and a centerpiece, this tureen is decorated with a crayfish, a partridge, and vegetables including a carrot, cabbage leaves, a mushroom, and onions. During a formal supper in eighteenth-century France, a tureen like this one would be used to serve soup or stew during the meal’s first course – but only the wealthy would use a dish this elaborate. This tureen was commissioned by Evelyn Pierrepont, the Duke of Kingston, who was living in Paris in the 1730s.
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