Feasting in the Renaissance

Did we whet your appetite on Sunday? Good. There’s more where that came from.

Instead of mangling Italian on the podcast (as we’re all wont to do), Tommy saved some of his choicest bits for this little follow-up post, expanding on the feasting traditions of Rome in the sixteenth century.


In Rome in the mid sixteenth century, great banquets were held in order to commemorate Holy days and special events and have meetings with political guests. These guests were high ranking officials in the Catholic Church, Italian aristocrats who lived in Rome. As shown in the entry for April 1536, in Bartolomeo Scappi’s cook book The Opera Of Bartolomeo Scappi, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V attended a banquet when he visited Rome for Lent that year.


Woodcut of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, 1500-1558 | Penn Libraries call number: GC5 A100 527w / Flickr| CC-BY

These dinners were so large that necessity dictated a menu be printed out for guests, with meals like Trippe di vitella alessate servite con cascio and canella sopra, the delectable tripe and veal served with a cinnamon sauce we mentioned, and Pollanche nostrali affaggiante con limoncelli tagliati sopra, a young chicken with a lemon sauce, (not piccata?!) and with confections like Biscotelli di marzapane, or gingerbread biscotti, Mostacciuoli Napoletani, which were a type of almond cookie, and Frittelle fatte con sugo di sambugo servite, or Pancakes with a sambuco liqueur sauce. These featured dishes, while extravagant for their time, could conceivably be seen in an Italian restaurant in today.

wedding feast

John Singer Sargent, “The Marriage at Cana” | Metropolitan Museum of Art, 50.130.154b

Furthermore, a striking feature of these banquets is that each of these meals was featured on a menu prepared by Scappi and his kitchen stewards. These menus had each separate serving with each meal portioned out and weighed. The cooks who prepared the meal were not the only “modernizing” factor for food and banquets, but the servants also helped traverse the culinary field into modernity by helping develop new serving methods, similar to how food is served today in restaurants. As these guests continued to go to these parties, they developed new attitudes not only about food, but how to prepare food as well.


Bartolomeo Scappi | Public Domain/ Wikimedia Commons

Aristocratic and papal banquets differed from both the medieval feast that came before it, and the Haute French meal that came after it, but it can be seen as a bridge connecting the two; a bridge between pre-modern and modern culinary standards. With the emergence of these banquets as seen in Renaissance Italy, new techniques, attitudes, manners and events contributed to these early modern people feeling cosmopolitan, fashionable, and modern.




Post Notes

For some old cookbooks:

Adams, Adrienne. A Fifteenth Century Cookry Boke. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1962.

Scappi, Bartolomeo. The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570): L’arte et prudenza d’un maestro Cuoco (The Art and Craft of a Master Cook). Translated by Terence Scully. Buffalo, NY: University of Toronto Press, 2008. First published 1570 by Scappi. Digital file.

Works on feasting:

Albala, Ken. The Banquet. Chicago, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2007.

Elias, Norbert. The History of Manners. Translated by Edmund Jephcott. New York: Pantheon Books, 1982

Freedman, Paul. Food The History of Taste. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2007

Featured Image: The Feast in the House of Levi | Public Domain/ Flickr 

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