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From Farm to Table



Dinner is served . . .
Italy<br/><br/> <em>Knife and Fork from Two-Piece Cutlery Set</em>, late 16th century<br/> Coral, brass, niello, silver, iron, gold<br/> Minneapolis Institute of Arts, gift of funds from the Decorative Arts Council with proceeds from the 2008 Antiques Show and Sale
  Italy

Knife and Fork from Two-Piece Cutlery Set, late 16th century
Coral, brass, niello, silver, iron, gold
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, gift of funds from the Decorative Arts Council with proceeds from the 2008 Antiques Show and Sale

 

Imagine eating a meal with utensils like these! Would you want to eat with this fork?

Today, forks and knives are common at many tables, but this was not always the case. In the Middle Ages, most Europeans—even kings and queens—ate with their hands. People used knives to cut their portion from a serving tray. Forks were not introduced to Italy until the 11th century, when a visiting Byzantine princess brought her knife and fork along. Upon seeing her use the fork, her royal hosts were quite shocked! However, the Italian nobility did, eventually, take up the fork.

Until the 17th century, people generally brought their own cutlery to a meal. This rare set once belonged to someone important and was likely saved for special occasions. Fellow banquet guests would have admired its beautiful coral decoration and lavish inlay, evidence of the owner's high rank and good taste. The coral also suggests a concern for safety, since coral was believed to be an antidote to poison. A high-ranking person might well have had cause to worry!


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1. This Ethiopian agelgil is used like a lunch basket to carry a type of flatbread called injera. Beta Israel people, Ethiopia, Lunch Basket, 20th century, plant fibers, leather, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The Ethel Morrison Van Derlip Fund
2. Among Native Americans of the Plains and Great Lakes/Woodland regions, wooden bowls like this one were widely used for everyday purposes. The carved head may represent Eyah, the spirit of eating heartily. Dakota people, United States, Bowl, 19th century, maple burl, brass tacks, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The Putnam Dana McMillan Fund and The Driscoll Art Accessions Endowment Fund
3. A wedding feast! The table here is set up to celebrate a wedding with a nine-course meal that includes cakes, melons, and dumplings. China, Wedding Procession (detail), 1368–1644, pottery, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, gift of funds from Mr. and Mrs. Charles Cleveland, Donna and Cargill MacMillan, Jr., and The John R. Van Derlip Fund

 

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May 2013