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The Edible Monument At The DIA

(DETROIT, MI) – Journey back centuries for a detailed look at elaborate sculptures and monuments made of food for street festivals and royal banquets in Europe in The Edible Monument: The Art of Food for Festivals at the Detroit Institute of Arts from December 16 through to April 16, 2017.

The exhibition is organized by the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, and includes 140 prints, serving manuals, and rare cookbooks from the Getty and private collections. It is free with museum admission, which is free for residents of Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties.

“This exhibition will delight fans of cooking shows and chef competitions, which are so popular today,” said Salvador Salort-Pons, DIA director. “It’s amazing to see the ingenuity of chefs and food designers who created these elaborate edible monuments 300 to 500 years ago, and visitors will also enjoy seeing some of the earliest cookbooks and food etiquette manuals.”

“Costume of the Cook,” ca. 1690s, Nicolas I de Larmessin, etching and engraving.<br>Image lent by Anne Willan and Mark Cherniavsky of Los Angeles.
“Costume of the Cook,” ca. 1690s, Nicolas I de Larmessin, etching and engraving.
Image lent by Anne Willan and Mark Cherniavsky of Los Angeles.

For the poor and hungry, public celebrations and street parades provided the opportunity to feast from large-scale edible creations made of breads, cheeses, and meats. At court festivals, banquet settings and dessert buffets featured lavish table monuments made of sugar, flowers, and fruit, which indicated the host’s wealth and status.

These edible sculptures didn’t last long, but images of towering garden sculptures and extravagant table pieces, designed for Italian and French courts and street festivals, have survived in illustrated books and prints, many of which are featured in the exhibition.

By the mid-17th century, cookbooks, handbooks showing place settings and decorative table arrangements, and guides to the new skills and professions of carving and pastry making were published. Copied and plagiarized, they became models that spread throughout European court culture.

The exhibition includes books by Bartolomeo Scappi, private cook to Pope Pius V, Joseph Gilliers, dessert chef to King Augustus of Poland, and Juan de la Mata, court chef to the Spanish kings Philip V and Ferdinand VI.

The exhibition also includes a monumental sugar sculpture based on an 18th-century print. Palace of Circe by British sculptor and culinary historian Ivan Day is set on an eight-foot table and features sugar paste sculpted into a classical temple with sugar statues and sugar-sand gardens.

The figures were meant to show the consequences of gluttony with a story about the ancient Greek hero Ulysses. When he landed on the island of Aeaea, his men were so greedy that the sorceress Circe turned them into pigs.

On February 4 at 2:00pm, Day will give a free illustrated talk that outlines the evolution of sugar sculpture and decorative table art from the Renaissance to the 18th century.

Image: “Costume of the Cook,” ca. 1690s, Nicolas I de Larmessin, etching and engraving. Lent by Anne Willan and Mark Cherniavsky, Los Angeles

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