Northern Italy workshops
Northern Italy, last quarter of the 16th century
Material: Walnut wood
Size: cm 202 x 58 x 119
Review by Gherardo turchi
This cabinet is an old and very precious walnut sideboard from northern Italy’s renowned artisan workshops and dating back to the last quarter of the sixteenth century. The cabinet has a fascinating history that has its roots in the distant past.
More than any other, this is furniture giving the house a welcoming and comfortable atmosphere and can never be missing in a dining room. Born as a piece of furniture usually placed in the banquet hall of nobiliary residences, the sideboard as an object of furniture was originally a simple low and long furniture above which all food was arranged into plates in plain sight before offering them to guests of particular rank and importance, during lunches organized by noble families.
Before starting the banquet, a particularly trusted servant of the family, called “Maestro Credenziere” (Master steward), wearing a special livery that distinguished him from the other servants, entered the banquet hall to “make the sideboard.” He joined the banquet hall and was standing next to the furniture – later on, called “credenza” – sideboard – where all the dishes with food had been placed and tasted all the courses before serving them to the guests; then, addressing the guests with a deep bow, said: ” Gentlemen, you were offered a sideboard service. ” He then remained in the reception hall for the duration of the banquet.
Since ancient times, it was common practice to offer sumptuous banquets in honor of an illustrious guest or to celebrate particular events. In Middle Ages, this practice became widespread, especially to celebrate the alliance between two Lords, often ending up by the marriage of the two families’ children. When a Lord wanted to enlarge his fiefdom for thirst for power, he had only to declare war on another rival Lord, to annex his possessions.
When this option was not possible, they resorted to an alliance, often sealed by rich gifts and benefices or, but not always, by their children’s marriage to make the two Lordships related. It was precisely on such occasions that they held some sumptuous banquets in honor of the former opponent. However, since it was also prevalent in this same historical period to eliminate political opponents with poison, even during a banquet, here was the practice of “making the sideboard.”
The aim was to reassure the guests that the food had no poison. For this reason, the “Master Credenziere,” after having tasted the food, remained in the reception room until the end of the banquet, showing he was not poisoned and was creditworthy, persuading guests about goodness and purity of the food offered, and above all, his Lord had no bad intentions as to poisoning them. The term later indicated the process of the “sideboard” and then, probably, the room intended for this practice – and – finally, the tableware cabinet.
Over the centuries, the sideboard had undergone a long evolution and had various shapes, equipped with doors, display cases, and drawers to store plates, glasses, kitchen tools, and storing food. Its function has never faded, and still today, it is a necessary piece of furniture in every kitchen, where it exhibits precious table sets, silverware, porcelain, bottles of good wine.
At the end of the sixteenth century, rigid, square, angular shapes and regular lines characterized furniture. The sense of carefully calculated measured symmetries distinguishes 16th-century Northern Italian furniture. It is possible to consider this model as an example of the lexicon of northern Italy.
This specimen stands out for the balanced proportion of its parts, for a linear smoothness of conception, and the splendid proportions enriched by some decorative elements. It is a remarkable example of Northern Italian carpentry’s technical skill, high quality, and refined constructive imagination.
Its front part has four pilasters marking it and alternating with three compartments, closed by doors corresponding to three drawers in the upper part. The drawers and doors and the sides of the sideboard are enriched with tiles shown on the solid wood, while those of the drawers have wooden knobs in their central part.
The tiles with a straightforward, linear design and a geometric profile contribute to giving simplicity and, therefore, at the same time, elegance which is a characteristic of that period. The front part of each upright appears embellished with small capitals and pilasters decorated with leaf and plant motifs.
These details, animating the whole furniture, give it a great value, worthy of the illustrious national and international house-museums. The base of the furniture is composed of an imposing and higher frame near the corners and the pilasters’ bases. Below this frame, three shaped aprons with small scrolls alternate on the front side of the sideboard. Finally, a rectangular top with a linear profile, adorned with a geometrically carved drip, surmounts the upper part.
Its state of conservation is excellent.