Sunday, 30 May 2010

Feasting at the British Museum

To accompany the History of the World in 100 Objects, the British Museum held a feast-themed evening. From churros to cupcakes, classical dishes to art workshops, there were plenty of activities to feed and fascinate.


My favourite object of the night, which will feature on the History series in September, was not edible!


On the contrary, it's an elaborated gilded model of a galleon, made in Germany in about 1585. The details are incredible: crew members in the crow's nests, guards along the edges, a monster-filled sea lapping around the base.


The Holy Roman Emperor sits under a canopy, with the Electors in front of him and before them the double-headed eagle and pillars which were his royal symbols.


There's even a clock (the sailors in their crow's nests used their hammers to strike the hours).

About the only thing not depicted is, well, food. So how is this relevant to the feasting theme?

The answer is in the object's use: it was designed to announce the beginning of a banquet. An organ inside the hull would play music, the Electors and heralds processed, the galleon moved forward, the cannon at the front would fire, and then the smaller side guns each fired in turn. (One assumes that they weren't actually loaded!) Once the guests had got over their amazement, the dining could begin.

A much more prosaic object - a lump of dough - formed the basis of another dramatic activity. During the Chinese noodle-making demonstration the dough was flung, twisted and looped through the air until it had, almost magically, become a mass of fine noodles. There may have been no gilt, music or cannonfire but this was just as impressive in its way.

3 comments:

Ann said...

thanks for doing this stuff...

Hornbeam said...

I love the Nef (for that is what it is).

A few years ago, I seem to recall, it went to the Vienna kuntshistoriches Museum to meet a similar sister ship.

CarolineLD said...

It is indeed a nef, one of three automata-nefs in the world. (Stationary ones, often holding condiments or other implements, are unsurprisingly more common.)

I didn't know it had been to visit a sibling! The third one is in the Musee National de la Renaissance, Ecouen, France.