Exhibition | The Edible Monument: The Art of Food for Festivals

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on October 6, 2015


Marcantonio Chiarini and Giacomo-Maria Giovannini, Disegni del convito fatto dall’illustrissimo signor senatore Francesco Ratta all’illustrissimo publico, eccelsi signori anziani and altra nobilità: terminando il svo confalonierato li 28. febraro 1693 (The Getty Museum). More information is available here.

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The Edible Monument revisits the exhibition mounted at the Getty in 2000, with the publication this fall of an accompanying catalogue.

The Edible Monument: The Art of Food for Festivals
The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, 13 October 2015 — 23 March 2016
Detroit Institute of Arts, 16 December 2016 — 16 April 2017

Curated by Marica Reed

Elaborate artworks made of food were created for royal court and civic celebrations in early modern Europe. Like today’s Rose Bowl Parade on New Year’s Day or Mardi Gras just before Lent, festivals were times for exuberant parties. Public celebrations and street parades featured large-scale edible monuments made of breads, cheeses, and meats. At court festivals, banquet settings and dessert buffets displayed magnificent table monuments with heraldic and emblematic themes made of sugar, flowers, and fruit. This exhibition, drawn from the Getty Research Institute’s Festival Collection, features rare books and prints, including early cookbooks and serving manuals that illustrate the methods and materials for making edible monuments.

Edited by Marcia Reed with contributions by Charissa Bremer-David, Joseph Imorde, Marcia Reed, and Anne Willan, The Edible Monument: The Art of Food for Festivals (Los Angeles: Getty Publications, 2015), 192 pages, ISBN 978-1-60606-454-2, $35.

9781606064542_grandeThe Edible Monument considers the elaborate architecture, sculpture, and floats made of food that were designed for court and civic celebrations in early modern Europe. These include popular festivals such as Carnival and the Italian Cuccagna. Like illuminations and fireworks, ephemeral artworks made of food were not well documented and were challenging to describe because they were perishable and thus quickly consumed or destroyed. In times before photography and cookbooks, there were neither literary models nor a repertoire of conventional images for how food and its preparation should be explained or depicted. Although made for consumption, food could also be a work of art, both as a special attraction and as an expression of power. Formal occasions and spontaneous celebrations drew communities together, while special foods and seasonal menus revived ancient legends, evoking memories and recalling shared histories, values, and tastes. Drawing on books, prints, and scrolls that document festival arts, elaborate banquets, and street feasts, the essays in this volume examine the mythic themes and personas employed to honor and celebrate rulers; the methods, materials, and wares used to prepare, depict, and serve food; and how foods such as sugar were transformed to express political goals or accomplishments.

Marcia Reed is chief curator at the Getty Research Institute. She is coeditor of China on Paper (Getty Publications, 2007).

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1  Marcia Reed—Food, Memory, and Taste
2  Marica Reed—Court and Civic Festivals
3  Marcia Reed—Feasting in the Streets: Carnivals and the Cuccagna
4  Joseph Imorde—Edible Prestige
5  Charissa Bremer-David—Of Cauliflower and Crayfish: Serving Vessels to Awaken the Palate
6  Anne Willan—Behind the Scenes

Illustration Credits

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Note (added 2 November 2016) — The DIA venue was not included in the original posting.


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