Food for thought?

The material witnesses of dining culture in sixteenth-century after death inventories

Inneke Baatsen

An in-depth study of the material aspects and qualities of late medieval and early modern dining equipment remains, up until now, still pending. Indeed, historiography barely touches upon this so-called “materiality” of both every day and exclusive tableware utensils. Frequently submerged in debates on 18th– and 19th-century tea-rituals and consumer (r)evolutions, tableware of the earlier modern period has lacked thorough analysis. When considering the 15th– and 16th-century, however, recent research by (mostly) English historians has borne its fruits as they reflected on the platters and plates of the Italian elites, which were believed to have fuelled a new “taste” for elaborate tableware. Unfortunately, we are still groping in the dark when scrutinizing the “social reach” of these new forms and media. Moreover, the Low Countries – being a densely urbanized region where majolica painting and glass industry thrived in the 16th-century – have not yet received the attention they deserved. To a certain extent, post-mortem inventories can remedy this present day historiographical shortcoming. By focussing on both the media and forma of these table utensils, this paper intends to complement the valuable and insightful studies in archaeology and art history. By combining data for Antwerp and Bruges, this paper likewise considers regional variety and the impact of urban culture.