5 October 2006 -
7 January 2007

At Home in Renaissance Italy

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Kitchen Scene Enlarge image of the Kitchen Scene

Kitchen Scene
Vincenzo Campi
Possibly 1580-90, Cremona, Lombardy
Oil on canvas
Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera, Milan

The kitchen (cucina) belonged to the network of service spaces - from pantries to wine cellars - that kept the house supplied with food and drink.

Kitchens were rarely located on the same floor as the sala, because of the smells, noise and constant circulation of people. Instead, they were usually in the attics, to minimise the risk of chimney fires, or on the ground floor. Many servants rarely left the kitchens, and the woman of the house paid frequent visits to supervise their work.

Even in large kitchens, the equipment was quite basic. The most important item was the mortar (ancestor of the modern blender), used for grinding and mixing all sorts of ingredients. But there were also pastry cutters to make pies, terracotta pots for slow braising and spits for roasting meat. Few of these survive, and most come from archaeological excavations.

You should not behave as I have seen some women do, who make such a din, and banging and moving about of tables and chairs, and so much noise of plates and knives, that the guest expects a sumptuous meal, and at the end realises that the mountain has brought forth a mouse.

From a conduct book for new brides (Pietro Belmonte, Istitutione della sposa, 1587)