The Banquet of the Rich Glutton by Jacopo da Ponte, better known as Bassano

Welcome to a sixteenth-century kitchen

The banquet of the rich epulone (XVI sec.) by Disegno: Jacopo da Ponte detto Bassano (1515 ca.–1592) - Incisione: Joan Sadeler (1550–1600)Biblioteca Gastronomica Academia Barilla

What was the furniture like in a sixteenth-century kitchen? And what activities took place there?
We can understand this from the interesting etching “The Banquet of the Rich Glutton”, taken from an oil on canvas of the same name by Jacopo Bassano, which is currently located in the Galleria Doria Pamphilj in Rome and of which there are numerous copies. An example of the engraving is featured in Academia Barilla’s collection of culinary-themed prints.

Portrait of Jacopo da Ponte, known as Bassano (1790 ca.) by Disegno: Dominique Vivant Denon (1747-1825)Biblioteca Gastronomica Academia Barilla

The artist
Jacopo da Ponte (circa 1515 - 1592), known as “Bassano” after his birthplace, Bassano del Grappa (Vicenza), was one of the most important exponents of Venetian painting of the 16th century.
He was a highly original artist, and the fact of living his whole life in Bassano, on the fringes of the great artistic currents of the sixteenth century, left him open to certain “rash” pictorial gambits which, in the more fashionable circuits, would raise eyebrows.

Bassano knew his peers’ work very well. In his first works, he emphasized naturalistic aspects, but softened these with free and soft landscape interpretations which came to him from two greats, namely, Titian and Lorenzo Lotto.

Monument to Jacopo da Ponte, Bassano del Grappa (1893) by Giovanni Fusaro (1844-1912)Biblioteca Gastronomica Academia Barilla

In the paintings of his maturity, he became more mannerist, sleek, and colourful, while continuing to describe the many details of the natural world, often with a strong sense of the phantastic, within biblical and mythological scenes.

Later, he adopted a language closer to that of Tintoretto becoming more graphic and interested in chiaroscuro. The figurative themes he developed – peasants, animals, still life – and the “serial” reproduction of certain iconographic motifs by his workshop, were to constitute the antecedent of that genre painting which became so successful in the seventeenth century.

Portrait of Johan Sadeler (1649) by Conraed WaumansBiblioteca Gastronomica Academia Barilla

The engraver
If the author of the painting from which the engraving “The Banquet of the Rich Glutton” is taken is of considerable interest, the engraver is no less fascinating.
Jan Sadeler (1550–1600) belonged to a famous historical dynasty of Flemish engravers and publishers, who gave us the highest quality reproductions of important works by 16th century artists, helping to spread their style and reputation throughout Europe.

Three of Sadeler’s most famous prints are kitchen scenes and are linked to Jacopo Bassano’s paintings inspired by stories from the Gospel: “Christ in the House of Martha and Mary”, the “Supper at Emmaus” and “The Banquet of the Rich Glutton” which we are discussing here.

The banquet of the rich epulone (XVI sec.) by Disegno: Jacopo da Ponte detto Bassano (1515 ca.–1592) - Incisione: Joan Sadeler (1550–1600)Biblioteca Gastronomica Academia Barilla

The work
The engraving of “The Banquet of the Rich Glutton” was made using the etching technique, a process that consists in eating into a plate of metal, solid zinc or copper for large runs, with an acid (in Latin aqua fortis, formerly nitric acid, also called mordant), to obtain images that can be transposed onto a support, usually paper, by means of coloured inks.

The image refers to the parable recounted by the evangelist Luke: it depicts a rich man sitting at his daily banquet

while poor Lazarus, with dogs licking at his wounds, is begging for alms next to his table.

It is a warning against selfishness and avarice: after death, the beggar Lazarus is welcomed into Heaven, while the rich man is condemned to suffer both hunger and thirst forever. And it is also an exhortation to give value to the spiritual, non-material aspects of our life: both compassion for those who are suffering, and generosity, turn out to be lasting joys, while the satisfaction of earthly pleasures is merely a temporary triumph.

Bassano underlined the contrast between abundance in which the protagonist of the parable is living, and the sobriety preached in the Christian message, through the representation, in the foreground, of servants busy preparing the lavish banquet

with a great profusion of people, kitchen utensils, and food.

The print, with the excuse of talking about the Gospel story, gives us the opportunity to enter an extraordinary kitchen of the sixteenth century and to participate in the noble’s banquet.

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