Episode 4: How Do You Solve a Problem Like Christina? Papal Banquets in 1655
Deposed queens, papal politics, sugar sculptures, & Bernini- a combination that could only happen at a Baroque feast! Join us this week as we explore the politics of feasting in the 1650s when Pope Alexander VII did the unthinkable & invited a woman to dinner! Learn about sugar sculptures that cost more than a car & how the design of an armchair had the potential to make or break Bernini's career. After all, no one throws a feast like the Romans!
Written & Produced by Laura Carlson
Technical Direction by Mike Portt
Images of Papal Feasting
Thanks to the illustrations of P.P. Sevin, we have a glimpse at what a 17th century papal feast would look like. Due to the cost and extravagance of papal banquets, artists increasingly took to sketching or painting specific elements of the table, usually the trionfi (sugar sculptures). Here are just a selection of the sugar sculptures that might feature on a papal dinner table, often taking the shape of the papal coat of arms, mythological scenes, or even scenes from the Bible.
Recipes from Christina's Papal Feast
Many of the dishes featured at the papal banquets for Christina don't translate well for the home chef (unless you're into constructing a Mt. Olympus of sugar and then, by all means, go for it & take pictures!). However, some of the 17th century handbooks for banquets do contain some recipes that can be done at home, such as the sauce below from the famous scalco of Mantua, Bartolomeo Stefani.
Sauce of Muscat Pears, from Bartolomeo Stefani's Le Arte di Ben Cucinare (The Art of Cooking Well) (1662), adapted by K. Albala
Take four pounds of muscat pears not too mature, well cleaned and the seeds removed, and that little bit of toughness they have inside, take one pound and a half of fine sugar, 9 ounces of rose water, six ounces of white wine, and put everything to boil with the pear, use always a low heat and when it is half cooked, and begins to get stringy, then begin to mix it, without its being completely cooked. This sauce will last all winter, when it is cooked well; pass it through a strainer and serve cold, sprinkled with cinnamon.
Want to have your own papal feast?
Check out these great books about Queen Christina and 17th century dining
Ken Albala, The Banquet: Dining in the Great Courts of Late Renaissance Europe (The Food Series) (2007). A fantastic resource on elite dining in the 16th and 17th centuries; includes some translated recipes from contemporary sources.
Podington Bear "Brightening" (Brightening by Podington Bearis licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 International License)
Handel, “Rompo i lacci” from Flavio, performed by the Rebel Baroque Orchestra (licensed under a Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.)
Vivaldi, "Spring- Mvt 3, Allegro Pastorale" from The Four Seasons, Performed by John Harrison with the Wichita State University Chamber Orchestra (licensed under a Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 International License.)