Cutlery Set

1550-1600 (made)
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Medieval & Renaissance, Room 62, The Foyle Foundation Gallery
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This French travelling set of cutlery, dating from the second half of the 16th century contains a knife with pointed blade for skewering meat, an early fork and a skewer.

Owning fine cutlery in the 16th century was an outward sign of wealth, elegance and refinement. It was normal practice for everyone to carry their own cutlery, especially a knife, in a leather case. Cutlery remained individual and personalised.

The knife was the main eating implement in Europe until the middle of the 17th century. The basic form of the table knife, a single-edged blade more or less pointed, with a handle, has remained virtually the same since Antiquity, although the details of construction, shape and decoration have varied.

The survival rate also suggests that knives were not subjected to hard, repeated use. Although this knife is sharply pointed to enable it both to cut and skewer meat, fingers were used for much of the meal.

The fork was introduced in Europe via Italy where it was used for eating delicacies like sweetmeats. Its use did not become widespread until the late 15th century when nobles and wealthy merchants were its main market. France, Switzerland, Germany, The Netherlands, Britain and Scandinavia gradually adopted it as cutomary during the 17th century.

Until this time the fork was not considered essential for eating. Treatises warning people against touching food when one's fingers had already been in one's mouth may have contributed to a rise in standards of hygiene and the fork was the perfect tool to encourage this.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Parts
This object consists of 4 parts.

  • Knife (Culinary Tool)
  • Fork
  • Skewer
  • Case
Materials and Techniques
Brief Description
Iron and steel knife, fork and skewer, partly gilt, in a travelling leather case with gilded iron mounts decorated with arabesques, France, 1550-1600
Dimensions
  • Length: 7.5in (Dimension taken from Register)
Gallery Label
  • Gallery 26, Case 8 KNIFE, FORK, SKEWER IN A SHEATH Iron, partly gilt and leather FRENCH; about 1550 M.602-1910 Salting Bequest This set of knife, fork and skewer in a travelling leather sheath is decorated with fine arabesque designs.(04/09/1991)
  • KNIFE, FORK AND SKEWER IN A SHEATH Iron, partly gilt, and leather French; about 1550 Salting Bequest This set of knife, fork and skewer in a travelling leather sheath is decorated with fine arabesque designs.
Credit line
Salting Bequest
Object history
This cutlery set was originally catalogued as Venetian, 16th century.



It came to the Museum in the Salting Bequest of 1910 (No. 1247), a major bequest including Chinese and Japanese ceramics and metalwork and European art. George Salting was born in Australia in 1836 where his father was a wealthy sugar producer. He was a very careful collector and was known to haggle endlessly over prices. By 1874, he began lending items to the V&A, then known as the South Kensington Museum, when his collection became too large for his residence in St James' Street. Salting died in 1909 and his collection was displayed the following year in its own gallery in the Museum.



Prior to Salting's ownership the cutlery had also been in the collection of Baron Frederic Spitzer (1815-1890). Spitzer was an antiquarian and dealer in Paris, originally from Vienna, whose collection was sold in 1893. This cutlery set fetched 950 francs.



The provenance of this cutlery, prior to Spitzer's ownership is not known.



Historical significance: This cutlery set is notable for the fine arabesque (running leaf) ornament on its mounts. It is also rare to have a complete set. The fork in this set is an early example of the use of the fork for holding meat during dining although the pointed blade of the knife suggests the food was still conveyed to the mouth using the knife.
Historical context
Owning fine cutlery in the 16th century was an outward sign of wealth, elegance and refinement. It was normal practice for everyone to carry their own cutlery, especially a knife, in a leather case. Cutlery remained individual and personalised.



The knife was the main eating implement in Europe until the middle of the 17th century. The basic form of the table knife, a single-edged blade more or less pointed, with a handle, has remained virtually the same since Antiquity, although the details of construction, shape and decoration have varied.



The survival rate also suggests that knives were not subjected to hard, repeated use. Although this knife is sharply pointed to enable it both to cut and skewer meat, fingers were used for much of the meal.



The fork was introduced in Europe via Italy where it was used for eating delicacies like sweetmeats. Its use did not become widespread until the late 15th century when nobles and wealthy merchants were its main market. France, Switzerland, Germany, The Netherlands, Britain and Scandinavia gradually adopted it as cutomary during the 17th century.



Until this time the fork was not considered essential for eating. Treatises warning people against touching food when one's fingers had already been in one's mouth may have contributed to a rise in standards of hygene and the fork was the perfect tool to encourage this.



The number of tines on a fork reflected its purpose. Two-tined forks were good for holding the food still while cutting. The more the tines the greater the variety of food that could be held and conveyed to the mouth. Three-tined forks were common by the end of the 17th century and a century later, four tines were the norm.
Summary
This French travelling set of cutlery, dating from the second half of the 16th century contains a knife with pointed blade for skewering meat, an early fork and a skewer.



Owning fine cutlery in the 16th century was an outward sign of wealth, elegance and refinement. It was normal practice for everyone to carry their own cutlery, especially a knife, in a leather case. Cutlery remained individual and personalised.



The knife was the main eating implement in Europe until the middle of the 17th century. The basic form of the table knife, a single-edged blade more or less pointed, with a handle, has remained virtually the same since Antiquity, although the details of construction, shape and decoration have varied.



The survival rate also suggests that knives were not subjected to hard, repeated use. Although this knife is sharply pointed to enable it both to cut and skewer meat, fingers were used for much of the meal.



The fork was introduced in Europe via Italy where it was used for eating delicacies like sweetmeats. Its use did not become widespread until the late 15th century when nobles and wealthy merchants were its main market. France, Switzerland, Germany, The Netherlands, Britain and Scandinavia gradually adopted it as cutomary during the 17th century.



Until this time the fork was not considered essential for eating. Treatises warning people against touching food when one's fingers had already been in one's mouth may have contributed to a rise in standards of hygiene and the fork was the perfect tool to encourage this.
Bibliographic References
  • Masterpieces of Cutlery and the Art of Eating, An Exhibition organised by the Victoria and Albert Museum in conjunction with the Worshipful Company of Cutlers of London, London 1979
  • Coffin, Sarah D. et al, Feeding Desire: Design and the Tools of the Table 1500-2005, Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, Assouline, New York 2006
  • Catalogue Des Objets D'Art et de Haute Curiositie, Antiques, Du Moyen Age & de La Renaissance, Collection Spitzer, Paris, Monday 17 April to Wednesday 16 June 1893, Plate LV, Lot No. 2375
  • Trigt, Jan Van, Cutlery, From Gothic to Art Deco: The J. Hollander Collection, Pandora, Antwerp, 2003. ISBN 90-5325-223-1
  • Patterson, Angus, Fashion and Armour in Renaissance Europe: Proud Lookes and Brave Attire, V&A Publishing, London, 2009, ISBN 9781851775811, p. 95, ill.
Collection
Accession Number
M.602 to C-1910

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record createdSeptember 14, 2006
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