5 October 2006 -
7 January 2007

At Home in Renaissance Italy

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Knife, Fork and Spoon Enlarge image of Knife, Fork and Spoon

Knife, fork and spoon
16th century, Venice
Silver and rock crystal
Museo Correr, Musei Civici Veneziani, Venice


Dining was a highly sociable activity. Whether an elaborate feast or an ordinary family meal, it brought the household and its guests together to eat, drink and talk.

In the past many people sat on benches and shared a communal dish, but now the individual table setting was beginning to emerge. This required a separate chair, and cutlery, plates and a glass for each person. Ceramics, glass and pewter began to replace traditional wooden tableware.

More courses and new dishes, such as mixed meat and vegetable salads, were introduced. The table became crowded with an array of new forms - from cooling vessels to the first flat plates, from wineglasses to eggcups. These in turn created an increased awareness of etiquette.

"We should avoid eating so greedily that we get hiccups. Nor is it done to rub your teeth with the napkin, even less so with your finger, since these are horrid habits."

From a book of manners
(Giovanni Della Casa, Galateo, 1558)