During the Renaissance, as in ages past, food was a matter for social class, as well as region and season. The Renaissance uplifted Europe’s culinary arts, especially in Italy, evident in the banquets of Rome’s papal court, the Venice of the doges and perhaps most elegantly in the Florence of the Medici. That family’s epicurean tastes were transferred to France when Caterina de’ Medici married King Henry II, bringing with her the cooks and recipes that reputedly put the haute in cuisine. But perhaps the most significant Italian contribution to European cooking, if indirect, was Christopher Columbus’s discovery of America. From the mid-fourteenth century to the early seventeenth century, the idea of banquets as a particular form of festivity flourished in Renaissance Europe. It began as a specifically secular celebration. In medieval times the word “feast” primarily referred to religious celebrations or special days in the church calendar; but also denoting a sumptuous meal. As a lavish, ceremonial meal in honor of an individual or occasion, the new banquet observed no periodicity and its consumption tended toward a demonstration of wealth and power. It was distinguished not only by extravagance and ostentation scale but also by its use of symbolism. In the sixteenth century a banquet could also refer to the less ostentatious; though no less lavish in relative terms. Annual ceremonial dinners of confreries or guilds, groups of men linked through craft or their parish were held on a relevant saint’s day.
Elaborate, ceremonial, extravagant had been offered before the adoption of the word banquet. Descriptions of dinners in honor of Popes include a centerpiece of a fountain spurting forth five different types of wine. This shows that lavish entertainment was nothing new. The sample menu of a sixteenth century banquet lists the food served at a grand banquet given by Pope Pius V. The banquet consists of 4 courses. Beginning the night with Cold Delicacies to the...
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