Eating Utensils & “Feast Gear”
Art, Culture, and Cuisine: Ancient and Medieval Gastronomy

The Wooden Bowl

Charlemagne's Tablecloth: A Piquant History of Feasting

Meat and drink be ordained and convenient to dinners and to feasts, for at feasts first meat is prepared and arrayed, guests be called together, forms and stools be set in the hall, and tables, cloths, and towels be ordained, disposed, and made ready. Guests be set with the lord in the chief place of the board, and they sit not down at the board before the guests wash their hands. Children be set in their place, and servants at a table by themselves. First knives, spoons, and salts be set on the board, and then bread and drink, and many divers messes; household servants busily help each other to do everything diligently, and talk merrily together. The guests be gladded with lutes and harps. Now wine and now messes of meat be brought forth and departed. At the last cometh fruit and spices, and when they have eaten, board, cloths, and relief are borne away, and guests wash and wipe their hands again. Then grace is said, and guests thank the lord. Then for gladness and comfort drink is brought yet again. When all this is done at meat, men take their leave, and some go to bed and sleep, and some go home to their own lodgings.

De proprietatibus rerum

In order to facilitate navigation, I've broken up the feastgear links into six separate pages:

Be sure to check the related links (above) for some other pages elsewhere on this site, including spoons, knives, forks, enamelled glassware, and pitchers, jugs, & flagons.

Period artworks can tell us what combinations of drinking vessels, bowls, plates, cutlery, and other serving utensils were used in different periods and countries. In addition, they can serve as clues in terms of appropriate materials for different class-levels – although of course one cannot always tell the difference between items illustrated as brown (which could be pottery, treen [wooden], or horn), yellow (which could theoretically be gold, though bronze or treen is more likely), and white or silver (which could, depending on the period and style, be glass, pewter, glazed pottery, or silver). I have generally included my best guesses for materials.

In many of these cases, while the figures depicted are biblical (or historical), the artists depicts them anachronistically using utensils and linens that would have been more appropriate for their own period(s).

Note that in virtually all of these instances – even at picnics – the food is served on white tablecloths, in some cases ornamented with brocade-woven bands. Also, in almost all cases, bread, fruit, and cheese are not eaten out of a plate or bowl; it's directly on the tablecloth.

Another resource for looking at period feast gear in illustrations is Gastronomie médiévale, an online exhibit at the BNF. The section on Les Repas would be the most useful on this topic. (Those who can read French may also like to read Autour de la table, which describes some of the tableware at the French National Museum of the Middle Ages.)

There's also several illustrations in A Feast for the Eyes, part of Master Huen's website. Since most of the illustrations are not directly identified by source (or period or location), I haven't added many of them to this list. But as additional sources in this general subject area, you should view the Eating & Dining and Feasts and Feasting sections for 14th-16th century manuscript illustrations and woodcuts.

Feast gear: beyond the thriftstore wooden plate has some good advice, too. And you may also want to read A History of the Table Fork.

I've tried to concisely describe some of the interesting dishes, drinking vessels, and utensils in each painting to make it easier for people who are looking for a specific sort of thing (and in case the webpage I have linked to is not working).

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