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CONFERENCES: Renaissance Drinking Culture and Renaissance Drinking Vessels

Renaissance Tazza cup

Renaissance Tazza cupCONFERENCES: Renaissance Drinking Culture and Renaissance Drinking Vessels

Francois Quiviger (Warburg Institute)

This fascinating paper took a closer look at Renaissance drinking vessels and drinking culture and examined the types of vessels commonly used in Italy and the Netherlands during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

What was considered acceptable consumption of alcohol during this period? There were many medical treatises that indicated the correct portions of water and wine measurements; i.e., two parts wine and one water. Wine tended to be diluted by wine and traditionally, four units per day of wine for men, and three units per day for women was deemed acceptable.  Excessive consumption and drunkenness were frowned upon. Medically, it was believed that drinking caused you to build up “too much fire” in your body and caused an imbalance. Drunkenness wasn’t just found in medical but also in ethical treatises that condemned drunkenness as poor etiquette. In the sixteenth century, drinking was moderate with the axiom – ‘drink little but often’. The first glass to quench your thirst, the second to drink to your health, the third to friends and the fourth glass to drunkenness. “Indulgence of wine is the opposite of virtue and leads to debauchery”.  

Lorenzo Lotto - Allegory of Vice and Virtue (1505)The most popular drinking vessel of this period was the “tazza”, a flat dish or cup. The word “tazza” was used in sixteenth century descriptions of these drinking vessels which were usually made of silver and often presented to commemorate a special event. The legendary use of barbarians drinking from the skulls of their enemies was also called “tazza” by Machiavelli. There was a revival of Greek drinking vessels during the Renaissance much like the revival of other areas of antiquity and ancient culture. Drunkenness and excess were often depicted in paintings of the period. Quiviger showed paintings from the sixteenth century depicting the evils of drunkenness, like that of the Northern Italian painter, Lorenzo Lotto’s “Allegory of Vice and Virtue”, “Drunken Silenus” by Reubens, and Andrea Podesta’s “Bacco e Arianna”.

Winged BacchusAlso popular in depicting drunken revelry was the image of Bacchus, and more rarely the winged Bacchus. The popular image of Bacchanal children was used to show that when we over drink, we behave like children. Quiviger also examined several early modern images of the Wedding at Cana where the tazza was present. In many of these paintings, Quiviger demonstrated the consistency in the representation of the tazza during the Renaissance period. The flat, wide tazza was also used to bring out the aroma of the wine. There were often images painted or carved into the bottom of them so when they were filled with wine, you would not see the image until you finished drinking, a slow reveal for the enjoyment of the drinker. When filled with water, the background slowly rose to the surface as you drank and the images appeared to become animated. Silver flat wine cups were designed for banquets, the flatness and imagery gave the attendees of banquets the illusion that they had drunk one glass too many.  There was a purposeful playfulness with these optical illusions.

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~Sandra Alvarez

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