Cucina – The Renaissance Kitchen

The kitchen (cucina) belonged to the network of service spaces – from pantries to wine cellars – that kept the house supplied with food and drink.

Kitchens were rarely located on the same floor as the sala, because of the smells, noise and constant circulation of people. Instead, they were usually in the attics, to minimise the risk of chimney fires, or on the ground floor. Many servants rarely left the kitchens, and the woman of the house paid frequent visits to supervise their work.

Even in large kitchens, the equipment was quite basic. The most important item was the mortar (ancestor of the modern blender), used for grinding and mixing all sorts of ingredients. But there were also pastry cutters to make pies, terracotta pots for slow braising and spits for roasting meat. Few of these survive, and most come from archaeological excavations.

“You should not behave as I have seen some women do, who make such a din, and banging and moving about of tables and chairs, and so much noise of plates and knives, that the guest expects a sumptuous meal, and at the end realises that the mountain has brought forth a mouse.” – From a conduct book for new brides (Pietro Belmonte, Istitutione della sposa, 1587)


While cookery books had been available for centuries in manuscript form, printed books of recipes, often containing woodcut illustrations, were a new development in this period. They made advice on cookery available to a wider audience than ever before. During the Renaissance it was common for meals to have four courses, which could consist of one entrée, two meat courses and one course of fruit or cheese. Meat was expensive and eaten regularly only by the wealthy. Short pasta, which would be boiled, became increasingly popular during the sixteenth century and soon dominated the Italian diet. Here we have translated recipes from two popular Renaissance cookery books, the humanist’s Bartolomeo Platina’s ‘On right pleasure and good health’ (1475) and the food advisor of the Ferrarese court Cristoforo Messisbugo’s ‘Banquets’ (1549).

Knife, fork and spoon16th century, VeniceSilver and rock crystalMuseo Correr, Musei Civici Veneziani, Venice.
Knife, fork and spoon
16th century, Venice
Silver and rock crystal
Museo Correr, Musei Civici Veneziani, Venice.


Barolomeo Platina’s ‘On right pleasure and good health’.
Cristoforo Messisbugo’s ‘Banquets’.

Source: V&A Museum At Home in Renaissance Italy Exhibition and Website

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