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Cutlery set

  • Place of origin:

    France (made)

  • Date:

    1550-1600 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown (production)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    [knife (culinary tool)] Steel, iron-gilt
    [Fork] Steel, iron-gilt

  • Credit Line:

    Salting Bequest

  • Museum number:

    M.602 to C-1910

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval and Renaissance, room 62, case 11

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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.

Physical description

[knife (culinary tool)] Knife, with sharp pointed, scimitar-shaped, steel blade and bevelled along the top. The chiselled iron handle is flattened where it joins the blade and decorated with arabesques. The main handle is square in section, chiselled with fleur-de-lys, notched halfway and tapering slightly to the finial formed of protruding scrolls and a looped top. The handle is gilt.
[Fork] Fork, with 2 tines sharply tapered on a bevelled and channelled stem. The chiselled iron handle is square in section, chiselled with fleur-de-lys, notched halfway and tapering slightly to the finial formed of protruding scrolls and a looped top. The handle is gilt.
[Skewer] Skewer, with pointed, steel blade and round in section, with acanthus leaf decoration where it joins the handle. The chiselled iron handle is square in section, chiselled with fleur-de-lys, notched halfway and tapering slightly to the finial formed of protruding scrolls and a looped top. The handle is gilt.
[Case] Leather cutlery case of tapering square section, the corners rounded and the leather partly gilded with running ornament, terminating at each end with gilded iron mounts chiselled with arabesques, the upper mount with shaped inserts for the cutlery and cylindrical loops on opposite sides for attaching a lid (now missing) and fixing to a belt.

Place of Origin

France (made)

Date

1550-1600 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown (production)

Materials and Techniques

[knife (culinary tool)] Steel, iron-gilt
[Fork] Steel, iron-gilt

Dimensions

[knife (culinary tool)] Length: 17.2 cm, Width: 1.9 cm blade, Depth: 1.1 cm finial, Length: 9.5 cm blade
[Fork] Length: 14.6 cm, Width: 1.0 cm tines, Depth: 0.9 cm finial, Length: 6.8 cm tines and stem
[Skewer] Length: 13.6 cm, Width: 1.0 cm finial, Depth: 0.9 cm finial
[Case] Length: 16.7 cm, Width: 5.8 cm, Depth: 3.5 cm, Length: 2.7 cm upper mount, Length: 6.6 cm lower mount

Object history note

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 note

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.

Descriptive line

Iron and steel knife, fork and skewer, partly gilt, in a travelling leather case with gilded iron mounts decorated with arabesques, France, 1550-1600

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

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
General history of cutlery
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
General history of cutlery
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
Illustrated. Sold for 950 francs
Trigt, Jan Van, Cutlery, From Gothic to Art Deco: The J. Hollander Collection, Pandora, Antwerp, 2003. ISBN 90-5325-223-1
Comparisons
Patterson, Angus, Fashion and Armour in Renaissance Europe: Proud Lookes and Brave Attire, V&A Publishing, London, 2009, ISBN 9781851775811, p. 95, ill.

Labels and date

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.

Materials

Leather; Steel; Iron

Techniques

Gilding; Forging (metal forming); Chiselled

Categories

Household objects; Metalwork; Tools & Equipment; Eating

Collection code

MET

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Qr_O127758
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