S. Demchuk, PhD in History, Assistant Professor
Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, Kyiv, Ukraine
LOOK BUT DO NOT TOUCH: PERFECT WOMEN'S EATING BEHAVIOUR IN THE NARRATIVES AND IMAGERY OF THE LATE MIDDLE AGES
Food in the medieval culture functioned not only as everyday essential, but also as a tool for symbolic communication and marker of social or gender identity. From the 13th century onwards, one can grasp an exponential growth in number of various manuals, which informed their reader how one should eat healthy and courteously. These books of manners were written in prose and rhymes, in Latin and vernacular languages and were widely spread amongst medieval elite. Texts were supplemented with symbolic and allegorical illuminations with the scenes with biblical or royal banquets, which should be treated as important sources on their own. Thus, this paper aims at revealing the place that late medieval culture reserved for women in the domain of food and its consumption. Based on the rich narrative and visual evidence, I shall highlight the main elements of the medieval food culture; reveal what was considered as women's socially acceptable behaviour during the banquets and how the social norms impacted the visual culture of banqueting. Late medieval education for women envisaged a quite particular eating behaviour. A woman had to control the needs of her body much more strictly than a man had to, to keep the fast, to pray and to go to the masses at expense of taking food. Once married she had to deprive herself of delicacies, which could be only consumed with her husband. She could not renounce taking food with her husband, what should be considered as a privilege and not as a duty. Visual culture only supported the ideal shaped in the narratives. A woman involved in drinking wine at the table became an allegory of intemperance. This image was contrasted with the image of a noble woman that was excluded from the communicative space of a banquet, who kept her eyes down and her arms on her knees. A woman so temperate that she ignores the food and drinks set for her on the table. Therefore, eating behaviour became another manifestation for women's chastity and humbleness, which were considered essential virtues in late medieval courtly literature.
Keywords: banquet, late middle Ages, gender, visual culture, illumination.
Received by the editorial board: 01.07.2020
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