Reimagining and Reconstructing the Renaissance Banquet

Jesse Rodin
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Department of Music, Stanford University

Bruno Laurioux
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Centre d'Etudes Supérieures de la Renaissance, University of Tours, Tours

This project confronts a collection of untapped sources about Renaissance feasting. Focusing on a banquet that took place in Tours, France in 1457, we want to deepen our understanding of Renaissance cooking techniques while investigating how food and feasting intersected with diplomacy, politics, music, dance, art, theater, religion, science, and medicine. Our focus is a fifteenth-century banquet whose source material is unusually extensive and strangely understudied. Staged in Tours in 1457, this feast was planned by count Gaston IV of Foix to welcome the Hungarian King Ladislaus the Posthumous, who came to the Loire valley to ask for the hand of Magdalena of France, the daughter of King Charles VII. With a guest list of more that 300 people, this event held the potential to cement an alliance between France, Hungary, Croatia, and Bohemia; for this reason, it also worried enemies such as Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. A rich documentary tradition survives, including chronicles and descriptions written by ambassadors and spies. These sources attest to an elaborate alternation of courses and “entremets,” short spectacles that often included music. Served by members of the French nobility, the banquet featured seven courses and five musical entertainments, followed by a series of vows made over a peacock. The feast was sumptuously staged, with a large platform for the musicians in the middle of the hall. And it took place at a time when the French king had at his disposal the famous painter Jean Fouquet and the composer Jean d’Ockeghem, who may well have contributed to the spectacle. The Stanford-based research team has practical experience interpreting and realizing late-medieval recipes. The scholars based in Tours, by contrast, will share new sources about the 1457 banquet and share their expertise about issues such as: the banquet as a global sensory and aesthetic experience; interactions between food, music, and health; and the impact of the culinary past on contemporary French gastronomy. We will begin with themed sessions on the recipes, musical performances, and scenography at the 1457 Tours feast, all indispensable to our work on reenacting the banquet. Our goal is for French students and faculty to learn the practical techniques that have been central to what has been happening at Stanford, and for the Stanford research team to engage with and learn how to interpret new historical sources.

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