Sunday, October 2, 2016
Introducing "Eating Medieval Art"
Last fall, I taught a seminar entitled "Materials, Making, and Meaning in Medieval Art," for which the main text was Theophilus' twelfth-century art-making manual, On Divers Arts. As we read that text, my students and I kept making connections to our own, twenty-first century, culture of food and cooking: his from-scratch instructions for making artists' materials read to us like recipes; his directions for using extra fish parts (heads and guts) for making glue reminded us of the current interest in using the whole animal; and his prescription that certain twigs be gathered at a specific time of year recalled for us the movement towards seasonality in food.
Those connections peaked my interest in exploring connections between medieval art-making and medieval cooking and food culture and so, with this blog post, I announce my new research project, "Eating Medieval Art." To be clear, this is not a project about images of food in medieval art (not that there would be anything wrong with that as a project). Instead, it is about overlaps in materials and processes between these two areas of medieval practice: it is about eggs, fish, cheese, and green vegetables, and about grinding, mixing, heating, and cooling. And it is about how such overlaps might have informed the meanings of both art-making and cooking and eating for medieval people.
My work on this project is going to take two forms. One will be the traditional, scholarly, academic work of research and reading. The other will be experimental and experiential and will involve cooking medieval recipes along with experimenting with medieval art-making techniques. For the latter, to begin with at least, I will be working with modern cookbooks that present somewhat modernized versions of medieval recipes, starting with Sharon Butler, Constance Hieatt, and Brenda Hosington's Plyen Delit: Medieval Cookery for Modern Cooks (second edition).
The cooking portion of this project is a way for me to bring together my personal and professional interests and so to trouble the boundary between amateur enthusiasm and properly distanced scholarly work (as advocated in Carolyn Dinshaw's How Soon is Now?). I've always enjoyed cooking and so this is a way for me to bring that enjoyment into my work. It is also the portion of the project that I plan on documenting here. I don't know what else may come out of this work, in terms of publications, etc. I'm trying not to focus on the outcome(s) of the project, but rather on the process of the work itself.