S. Demchuk, PhD in History, Assistant Professor

Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, Kyiv, Ukraine

ORCID: 0000-0003-3477-1316

DOI: https://doi.org/10.17721/1728-2640.2020.146.2


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

Download Full Text


1. Krylova, Yu. (2014). The Author and Society in the Late Medieval France. "The Book on Moral Education for the Daughters" of Geoffroy de la Tour Landry. Moscow : Indrik. [in Russian].

2. Barnhouse, R. (2006). The Book of the Knight of the Tower: Manners for Young Medieval Women. London : Palgrave Macmillan.

3. Bejczy, I. (2011). The Cardinal Virtues in the Middle Ages: A Study in Moral Thought from the Fourth to the Fourteenth Century. Leiden: BRILL.

4. Bynum, C. Walker. (1988). Holy Feast and Holy Fas t: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women. Berkeley-Los Angeles: University of California Press.

5. Dean, T. (1990). City and Countryside in Late Medieval and Renaissance Italy: Essays Presented to Philip Jones. London : Bloomsbury Publishing.

6. Gendt, A. M. de. (1996). Mors et vita in manu linguae: Paroles dévastatrices et lénifiantes dans le Livre du Chevalier de la Tour Landry. Mediaeval Studies, 58, 351–363.

7. Grant, M. (2000). Galen on Food and Diet. New York : Routledge.

8. Greco, G. L. & Rose, C. M. (2012). The Good Wife's Guide (Le Ménagier de Paris): A Medieval Household Book. New York : Cornell University Press.

9. Grigsby, J. L. (1963). A New Source of the Livre du Chevalier de La Tour Landry. Romania, 334, 171–208.

10. Ibrahim, G. S. A. (2015). Virtues in Muslim Culture: An Interpretation from Islamic Literature, Art and Architecture. London : New Generation Publishing.

11. Kren, T. & McKendrick, S. (2003). Illuminating the Renaissance: The Triumph of Flemish Manuscript Painting in Europe. Los Angeles : Getty Publications.

12. Naylor, L. J. & Rickert, E. (2000). The Babee's Book: Medieval Manners for the Young. Cambridge-Ontario: In parentheses Publications.

13. Normore, C. (2015). A Feast for the Eyes: Art, Performance, and the Late Medieval Banquet. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

14. Porter, S. E. & Pitts, A. W. (2013). Christian Origins and Greco-Roman Culture: Social and Literary Contexts for the New Testament. Leiden : BRILL.

15. Tsakiridis, G. (2010). EvagriusPonticus and Cognitive Science: A Look at Moral Evil and the Thoughts. Eugene, Oregon : Wipf and Stock Publishers.

16. Weiss, M. Adamson. (2004). Food in Medieval Times. Westport-London: Greenwood Publishing Group.