Welcome to a sixteenth-century kitchen.
What did the interior of a 16th-century kitchen look like? And what activities took place in it? Not to worry: we can find out from the interesting engraving The Banquet of the Rich Glutton, based on Jacopo Bassano’s oil painting on canvas of the same name, housed in the Doria Pamphilj Gallery in Rome, of which there are numerous replicas.
Jacopo da Ponte (ca. 1515 – 1592), called “Bassano” after his home town, Bassano del Grappa (Vicenza), is one of the most important figures in 16th-century Venetian painting. It is not surprising to find that El Greco was impressed with his Crucifixion, now housed at the Museum of Treviso.
He was an original painter. The fact that he spent his whole life in Bassano, away from the great artistic currents of the 16th century, exposed him to pictorial “imprudence” that would have been rejected in trendy circles.
Bassano was familiar with the work of his colleagues. The naturalism of his first works was lightened by free and soft landscape interpretations inspired by the two great artists Tiziano Vecellio and Lorenzo Lotto.
The style of his mature works is more mannerist, elongated and brilliant in colours, although biblical and mythological scenes continue to depict the natural world with a wealth of details, and often with a pronounced sense of the fantastic.
Later, he approached the language of Tintoretto, becoming more graphic and making greater use of chiaroscuro, with monumental yet non-rhetorical elements, as in the famous Last Supper, housed in the Galleria Borghese in Rome.
The monotonous routine of provincial life and his considering himself a craftsman rather than an artist protected his aesthetic sensibility and allowed him to always adopt an individual and experimental approach to his subjects. So much so that, through his figurative themes – peasants, animals, still lifes – and the “serial” reproduction of certain iconographic motifs in his workshop, Bassano anticipated the genre painting that would be so successful in the 17th century.
If the author of the picture on which the engraving The Banquet of the Rich Glutton is based is a very interesting figure, its engraver is certainly no less so.
Jan Sadeler (1550–1600) belonged to a historic and famous dynasty of Flemish engravers and publishers, who gave us high quality reproductions of important works by 16th-century artists, thus helping to make their style known and to establish their reputation throughout Europe.
Three of his most famous prints are kitchen scenes based on paintings by Jacopo Bassano, all depicting New Testament stories: Christ in the House of Martha and Mary, Supper at Emmaus and The Banquet of the Rich Glutton.
The engraving The Banquet of the Rich Glutton was made with the acqua fortis technique, an engraving process that consists in corroding a metal or solid zinc plate, or a copper one for large runs, with nitric acid (in Latin aqua fortis, also called mordant) in order to obtain images to be transferred onto a support, normally paper, through coloured inks.
The print refers to the parable told by Luke the Evangelist: it depicts the rich man seated at his daily banquet, while poor Lazarus begs near his table, with dogs licking his wounds.
It is a warning against selfishness and avarice: after his death. the beggar Lazarus is welcomed into heaven, while the rich glutton is condemned to hunger and thirst for all eternity. It is an exhortation to value the spiritual and non-material aspects of life: compassion for those who suffer and generosity are revealed to be a lasting joy, while the satisfaction of earthly pleasures is only a temporary victory.
Bassano highlights the contrast between the abundance in which the protagonist of the parable lives and the sobriety preached by the Christian message through the depiction, in the foreground, of servants busily preparing the lavish banquet, with a great profusion of figures, kitchen objects and food.
In the context of a Gospel story, the print takes us into an extraordinary 16th-century kitchen and lets us participate in an aristocratic banquet.
And do you know what it brings to mind? The Work by Bartolomeo Scappi, published in Rome in 1570, the greatest 16th-century treatise on cooking. A veritable summa of knowledge and information, enriched with numerous illustrations, which includes over one thousand recipes and deals with all the topics that a high-level Renaissance chef was supposed to be familiar with, and therefore also the chef overseeing the rich man’s banquet in our engraving.