29 May 2018

A Place at the Royal Table

Palace of Versailles

Come and take place at the King’s table ! Thanks to the menu, discover delicacies served in a delicate dishes, dressage, and also the full organization that makes the royal dining room the heart of greatness and power.

This virtual exhibition was produced with the participation of thirteen royal residences from the Network of European Royal Residences:

Royal Palace of Caserta (Italy)

Royal Łazienki Museum (Poland)

The Royal Danish Collection (Danmark)


Royal Palace of Gödöllő (Hungary)

Prussian Palaces and Gardens of Berlin-Brandenburg (Germany)

Parques de Sintra-monte da Lua (Portugal)

National Palace of Mafra (Portugal)

Palace of Versailles (France)

Palace of Compiègne (France)

Royal Castle in Warsaw (Poland)

Coudenberg Palace (Belgium)

Museum of King Jan III's Palace at Wilanów (Poland)

Consorzio delle Residenze Reali Sabaude, Venaria Reale (Italy)

I. The food 
The food eaten at the Royal Table was notable for its refinement. These still life paintings of fresh produce depict customs and innovations in culinary art: traditional items such as game, poultry and grapes mingle with recently-discovered exotic fruit such as pineapples, coffee and pomegranates.

In this work, artist Jean-Baptiste Oudry uses items that evoke meals associated with the royal hunt: a wicker basket full of peaches, a melon of which a quarter has been cut out, a silver dish with carafes and glasses, a bunch of grapes and a pâté en croûte with a slice cut out. There is also a gilded silver cooler with a bottle.

The allegorical bust of America evokes food from the New World which caused a sensation at the Court of Louis XV: figs, depicted here, not forgetting pineapples and coffee. The King’s table thus happily combined tradition and innovation.

This painting shows Domenico Salerno, hunting companion of King Ferdinand IV of Bourbon with hares, pheasants, partridges, mallards and other small birds at his feet. The dogs, which are the main protagonists of the scene, are painted with realism.

It is the work of the Moldavian artist Martin Ferdinand Quadal, renowned portraitist and naturalist. His journey to London, where he painted the English nobility in the style of Sir Joshua Reynolds, is clearly reflected in this work. A tireless traveller, he also stayed in Naples from 1782 to 1786.

This work, in which the faces are remarkably rendered, shows a small group of people in a typical market scene: a fishmonger is weighing a fish for a customer wearing a black shawl while a market gardener with a big hat looks on with a smile.

The artist, Giacomo Francesco Cipper, who specialised in still life and genre scenes, was born in Austria on 15 July 1664, moving to Milan in 1696 where he lived and worked until his death. Cipper is considered to be one of the main upholders of the naturalist tradition, in the Neapolitan style of Caravaggio.

This sumptuous still life shows a rich composition laid out on a table covered with a Persian rug. It including a silver platter, a glass of white wine, some pomegranates, a knife with an onyx handle, a Delft faïence bowl containing peaches and a half-peeled lemon, a melon, a loaf of bread and an oyster.

The Royal Castle of Warsaw

But all these items, rich and evocative, are subjected to the passage of time, indicated by the presence of an open watch.

The metal aiguières, in which the objects and the artist’s silhouette are reflected, are characteristic of Beyeren’s work during that period.

This work is in the collection of still life paintings belonging to Poland’s last king, Stanislas Auguste. The artist, van Deynum, probably came from Antwerp in Flanders. He is known for having painted a dozen or so works originally attributed to Jan Davidsz de Heem, one of the most famous still life painters of his time.

Van Deynum often found inspiration in Heem’s work. In this painting he has partly reproduced the Still life with fruit and herring attributed to Heem (Liechtenstein Museum, Vienna, 1654), but has added a glass.

This work is also in the collection of Poland’s last king, Stanislas Auguste, and is also attributed to van Deynum. A very similar work attributed to the latter is conserved at the Orleans Fine Arts museum.

There are two other versions of this painting falsely attributed to Jan Davidsz de Heem, whose work was often copied by van Deynum (Parke-Bernet Galleries in New York and a private collection). Whatever its origin, the interest of this work lies in the numerous depictions of fruit and glass bowls beloved of the Flemish masters.

This painting, typical of the still life in fashion in the Netherlands and the Rhineland, depicts the food that was cooked in the 17th century. One can see a dish, a goblet and a bowl filled with peaches, raspberries, blackberries and no doubt strawberries and cherries.

The artist has also depicted a stoneware jug, two glasses filled with wine reflecting the light and a big pewter dish bearing a pie with a slice cut out. Only the piece of pie, the knife and the raspberry placed on the table give an inkling of a sense of life in a scene that is deliberately frozen.

II. Dinner is served
A Royal meal was a pleasure requiring faultless organisation. Thus, each officer of the King’s kitchen (for meals taken in public) and each First Manservant (for more intimate meals) carried out the role allocated to them by the Regulations of the King’s Household. Far from such etiquette, scenes of outdoor meals glorified the surrounding countryside in a romantic, bucolic setting.

The Palace of Versailles has conserved one of the four collections of “Choisy menus”, dating from 1751. With the copies held by other institutions, there are 412 menus served to the King between 1744 and 1759.

Dainty suppers were served at Choisy to around 30 guests, very different to the etiquette that accompanied public meals. Meals were served “à la française”, i.e. there were between three and five courses at each of which several dozen different dishes were offered.

Each menu is colourful and richly-decorated, sometimes depicting amusing details such as hunting scenes. The document is signed Brain de Sainte-Marie, one of the servants of the Royal Furniture Treasury.

Eighty-one oil paintings on wood, purchased in the Netherlands, were exhibited on the walls of Christian IV’s salon at Rosenberg between 1615 and 1620. The current display attempts to reconstitute the original layout in which they were hung.

The painting shows a lunch on the grass with many noble characters. The scene is in a woodland clearing. A manor house may be seen in the left background. A white cloth has been spread directly on the ground and pewter dishes and plates of different sizes have been placed upon it.

A big dish bears a pheasant pie made from a pâté en croûte decorated with the bird’s head, wings, feathers and tail. In the foreground a woman raises her glass, apparently inviting the viewer to join the scene. Several scenes of seduction are taking place around her.

The lower parts of the walls in the Hall of Diana at the Royal Palace of La Venaria contain ten hunting scenes painted in around 1658-1660 by Flemish artist Jan Miel. They depict the different stages in the complex ritual that had developed around the hunting of the hare, from the pursuit of the animal (on horseback or on foot) to its capture and killing. This canvas shows “The Assembly”, when the hunters meet for a banquet. Duke Charles-Emmanuel II of Savoy may be identified among those depicted.

III. The table is set
Table settings show the cultural disparity between the different European Royal Residences, where etiquette was so different. Meals at the Royal Table or with full ceremonial, intimate suppers, “Médianos” and snacks, at Court or in hunting lodges: the time of day and the occasion, the type of meal and the quality of the guests determined how the table was laid.

Formerly a Royal Table Room, this room was chosen by Napoleon I as a dining room. He conserved the 18th century decoration, particularly the trompe l’oeil grisailles by Piat Joseph Sauvage evoking the pleasures of the table, but requested Jacob-Desmalter to make new furniture, sober and functional, whose layout could easily be changed, the room also being used for entertainment. It kept this dual function during the Second Empire, as shown by the set table, which dates from that period.

At the time when the emperor Franz-Joseph and the empress Sissi lived as king and queen of Hungary at Gödöllö, this small dining room was used for meals taken with the family. It was furnished with a neo-Baroque oval table and chairs covered in yellow leather.

The panelled walls were decorated with still life paintings and portraits of the empress Marie-Theresa with her family. Items from the famous set of Herend porcelain, in the Gödöllö heraldic colours, may be seen on the table.

The dressers in the photograph are original pieces from Gödöllö. The porcelain and glass tableware come from the services specially designed for and used by the Royal Family and bear the initials of Franz-Joseph I.

The walls of the serving room adjacent to the small dining room were decorated with landscape paintings and furnished with chairs similar to those in the dining room.

When King Frederick William of Prussia gave his uncle, Prince Henry, a big dinner and dessert service in 1791, he encouraged the introduction of a new style. The simplicity of the borders of the items in this service, decorated with draperies in relief and bouquets of wild flowers, contrasts with the rococo style of the previous decades.

Inspired by the famous Sèvres dinner service, presented to prince Gustav III by Louis XVI in 1784, the factory chose a green and gold border. This service was offered in gratitude to Prince Henry, who had just erected an impressive obelisk in the Rheinsberg gardens, in honour of his late brother, Augustus William, father of the new king.

This oak dining table is fitted with a telescopic opening system with five additional leaves on each side When closed, the table has a diameter of 1.5 metres, but when fully extended it is 4 metres long; it could seat between four and 20 people on chairs in woven reeds.

This table belongs to the dining room furniture ordered by Ferdinand II from Barbosa and Costa in 1866 for La Peña palace. Designed exclusively in Portugal, the table demonstrates the search for functionality and innovation peculiar to the industrial era. It imitates the 17th century style, with animal heads sculpted on the feet, and was clearly destined for use in the country.

IV. Tableware
The European Royal Residences’ collections include dinner services produced by the Royal manufactures: Vincennes and later Sèvres in France, Meissen in Germany... The size of these services and their refined decoration make them exceptional works of art. Punch bowl, oille tureen, surtout, dessert dish: shapes and names that evoke the typology of refined dishes served during sumptuous receptions.

This porcelain dish, imported from Yongzheng’s Imperial China (Qing Dynasty), belonged to one of the dinner services ordered in around 1730 by King John V of Portugal, whose coat of arms it bears, inset in polychrome enamel. It is decorated with vegetal and geometrical patterns in blue, white and gold.

This French porcelain sugar bowl by Deroche bears the coat of arms of the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves, used between 1816 and 1826 during the reign of John VI. Its particularly elegant decoration is based on the alternation of vegetable and geometrical patterns in gold against a burgundy background.

This sugar bowl with its matching saucer and spoon, was part of the tea, coffee and hot chocolate service ordered in 1775 by Prince Peter (1717-1786), younger brother of King José I. He used the service at Queluz, his summer residence near Lisbon.

The shape of this piece of porcelain is typical of those produced in China for European clients. In 1807, after the French invasions of Portugal, this set accompanied the Royal family in their exile in Brazil. Today, the Queluz set still includes 123 items.

In the 18th century, the king gave every Prussian princess a service in porcelain made by the Royal manufacture. These sets consisted of a dinner service, a dessert service and a surtout including vases, salad bowls, baskets and figurines.

The dessert plates and other tableware made for Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Louise and King Frederick William III, who married Prince Frederick of the Netherlands in 1825, mainly show views of Potsdam and its environs. The young princess, far from home, could thus show her guests the beauty of the landscapes in which she had grown up.

A particularly elegant model, this oval sugar bowl features two sculpted eagles watching their young as it hatches. Designed in 1806 by Alexandre Brongniart, then director of the Sèvres Manufacture, it is part of the dessert service with garlands of flowers on a gold background delivered to Compiègne in 1809 for Emperor Napoleon I.

Used until 1830, the service then completely disappeared. Today it is represented at Compiègne by several recently-acquired pieces exhibited in the empress’s dining room.

The goblet was made in 1724 to celebrate the marriage of Zofia Sieniawka, daughter of Adam Mikolaj Sieniawski, and Stanislaw Denhoff, governor of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, then part of the Kingdom of Poland.

The shape of the piece, as well as the engraving of the lower part of the goblet, on the foot, the bud and the fleuron, are typical of the objects designed in the Lubaczów glass factory in the 1720s. The goblet is engraved on one side: two panels topped with crowns contain the coats of arms of Denhoff and his wife. The edge of the goblet is engraved with floral decoration; the foot and the cover are decorated with two branches – one of palm, the other of laurel – joined by a ribbon.

This chalice, with reticello decoration (a network of geometrical shapes) in filigree, probably comes from Venice.

During the Renaissance, the Venetians developed their famous cristallo glass. This new aesthetic style was used in tableware: elegant, gracious shapes, filigree and millefiori, extremely fine glass... Venetian glass-making established itself as the incarnation of luxury: its shapes, its patterns and the technical prowess of its production were imitated all over Europe. Glass-blowers working in the Venetian style opened workshops in Antwerp and Liège in the second half of the 16th century and in Brussels from 1623.

This plate is a relic of majolica tableware, decorated with a coloured rosette and vegetable and geometrical patterns. Majolica is tin-glazed ceramic, also called faïence, in reference to the Italian town of Faenza.

In the 16th century Netherlands, such items, decorated with numerous highly-coloured patterns, were considered to be the height of luxury. The majolica technique is mainly used for tableware, ointment jars and albarelli (small vases) and for making tiles.

The displays at the Palace of Wilanów include a tankard of great value decorated with the portrait of King Jan III and his wife Marie Casimire, as a souvenir of their visit to Gdansk in 1677. The cylindrical tankard is decorated with a characteristic handle and a cover.

The king is depicted clothed as in ancient times, wearing a crown of laurels. The queen has her hair carefully styled and is wearing strings of pearls. Horns of plenty full of fruit form panels surrounding the portraits. The Gdansk master craftsmen started making tableware bearing likenesses of famous people from the 1670s. This fashion helped to make King Jan III more popular.

Small glasses and carafes like these were placed on the tables of the aristocracy. Their simple shape also meant that they could be stored in a luggage compartment during a journey.

They are decorated with heraldic symbols: coats of arms surrounded with badges of office indicating the status of Marshal at the Court of the Republic of Poland. This coloured, polished and gilded glassware, displayed at the Palace of Wilanów, comes from Huta Kryształowa, a big glassworks which produced chandeliers and crystal tableware in the 18th century.

This silver service was made for Queen Maria Theresa, wife of King Charles Albert of Sardinia (1798-1849) and daughter of the Grand Duke of Tuscany.

It consists of 363 decorated pieces of various sizes weighing a total of 175 kg; each piece bears the coat of arms of the House of Savoy and the House of Habsburg-Lorraine. This service was part of the collection belonging to the Bruni-Tedeschi family, Piedmontese industrialists, before being bought by the Piedmont regional authority in 1999.

Credits: Story

Catherine Pégard, President of the Palace of Versailles, President of the Network of European Royal Residences

Laurent Salomé, Director of the museum

Thierry Gausseron, General administrator

Élisabeth Caude, General curator, in charge of furniture and art object department

Géraldine Bidault, in charge of the photography library and the digitization of the collections, curator of the digital exhibition

Elena Alliaudi and Hélène Legrand, Network of European Royal Residences

Ariane de Lestrange, Head of communication

Paul Chaine, Head of digital service

Marie Delamaere, Thomas Garnier, Marie Zimberlin, Coordinators of the digital exhibition

With the participation of :

Reggia di Caserta

Royal Łazienki Museum

The Royal Danish Collection

Palais royal de Gödöllő

Prussian Palaces and Gardens of Berlin-Brandenburg

Parques de Sintra-monte da Lua

Palacio Nacional de Mafra

Palais de Compiègne

Château royal de Varsovie

Coudenberg Palace

Palais de Wilanów, Musée du Roi Jan III

Consorzio delle Residenze Reali Sabaude, Venaria Reale

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions (listed below) who have supplied the content.
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