Art, J. Paul Getty Museum, Manuscripts and Books

Slaving Over a Hot Medieval Stove

If cooking for a crowd seems like hard work today, imagine what it must have been like in the Middle Ages, before the advent of electricity, indoor plumbing, or take-out. Two illuminations from a psalter (book of Psalms) offer a humorous glimpse into the medieval domestic kitchen some 800 years ago.

Baking Bread / Unknown illuminator, Belgium

Baking Bread (detail) in a psalter by an unknown illuminator, Belgium, mid-1200s. Tempera colors, gold leaf, and ink on parchment, each leaf 9 1/4 x 6 1/2 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. 14, fol. 8v

Here we see bread-making as a never-ending struggle between cook and dough. At left, an apprentice is up to his forearms in a vast trough of goo; at right, a baker plunges her peel into the forge, worriedly eyeing the flames licking at her forehead.

A Man Warming by the Fire (detail) in a psalter by an unknown illuminator, Belgium, mid-1200s. Tempera colors, gold leaf, and ink on parchment, each leaf 9 1/4 x 6 1/2 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, Ms. 14, fol. 3

This illumination offers a glimpse of the fruits of such labor. Nestled below hanging sausages and a partially eaten ham, a warmly dressed man presides over a veritable feast, with various foodstuffs and eating implements littering the table. With his right hand, he reaches for a large joint of meat, while his left is occupied holding his foot up to a fire—the best of both worlds! In the foreground, a harried-looking serving boy rushes up to refill a pitcher from a barrel. I picture rowdy guests yelling after him for more booze, much like calling for another beer while watching Thanksgiving-day football.

Other pages of this same manuscript feature more wonderful pictures of food-related labor: scything grass for hay, gathering acorns to feed hogs, pruning fruit trees, lugging bags of grapes.

Food is work, and we give thanks to all those who grow, bake, cook, and serve it. Happy Thanksgiving!

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      #ProvenancePeek: Shark Attack!

      Every art object has a story—not only of how it was made, but of how it changed hands over time until it found its current home. That story is provenance.

      This dynamic painting of a 1749 shark attack in Havana, Cuba, by John Singleton Copley was too good to paint only once. The original hangs at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. A second full-sized version of the painting, which Copley created for himself, was inherited by his son and eventually gifted to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

      The third version (shown here) is slightly reduced in size, with a more vertical composition. It resides in the Detroit Institute of Arts.

      A quick peek into the digitized stock and sales books of art dealer M. Knoedler & Co. at the Getty Research Institute shows the sale of Copley’s masterpiece. It was entered under stock number A3531 in July 1946 and noted as being sold to the Gallery by Robert Lebel, a French writer and art expert. The Knoedler clerk also carefully records the dimensions of the painting—30 ¼ x 36 inches, unframed.

      On the right side of the sales page you’ll find the purchaser listed as none other than the Detroit Institute of Arts. The corresponding sales book page gives the address: Woodward Ave, Detroit, Mich., still the location of the museum.

      Watson and the Shark, 1782, John Singleton Copley. Detroit Institute of Arts


      #ProvenancePeek is a monthly series by research assistant Kelly Davis peeking into #onthisday provenance finds from the M. Knoedler & Co. archives at the Getty Research Institute.


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