Early Modern Spain

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Food and culture

Our work on Food and Culture in Early Modern Spain is led by R.T.C. Goodwin in collaboration with B.W. Ife. A book by Dr Goodwin resulting from this research will be published in April 2005. The book is part of a series about Spanish culture commissioned by the well-respected art historian and cultural commentator Francisco Calvo Seraller and is intended for a broad educated reading public in Spain, reflected in the low price, large initial print run, and plentiful colour illustrations. But it closely follows Dr Goodwin’s PhD thesis, ‘Food, Art, and Literature in Early Modern Spain’ (PhD thesis, University of London, 2001).

‘Food, Art, and Literature in Early Modern Spain’ (supervised by B.W. Ife) examined the representation of food in the iconic works of Spanish Golden-Age culture. But the purpose was not the study of food itself. Instead, the dissertation demonstrated that the comparison of how food is represented in different cultural media and in historical documents leads to a broad and integrated understanding of the moral, social and intellectual concerns of the society in question. If you tell me what you eat, I’ll tell you who you are and what you think.

Dr Goodwin’s book Alimentos del humanismo (Madrid: TF Editores) has been described by the publishers in the following way:

‘En la cuarta entrega de la colección Aficiones, Robert Goodwin propone un enfoque nuevo para la comprensión de uno de los momentos artísticos más prolíficos y florecientes pero socialmente más conflictivos de nuestra historia. A través del análisis de la representación de los alimentos y la comida en los bodegones de Velázquez y Sánchez Cotán, el Quijote y el Guzmán de Alfarache, nos acerca a nuestros antepasados para conocer sus inquietudes y sus preocupaciones, sus gustos y apetitos, y sus formas de concebir lo moral y lo verdadero en su entorno, para mejor entender la cultura y la sociedad cuya historiografía constituye el Siglo de Oro español.’

The world English language rights have been retained by Dr Goodwin.

The Food and Culture theme in our work is also represented by B.W. Ife’s work on what Cervantes tells the reader about don Quixote’s diet, and what effects his eating habits would have had. This work has been presented in conference papers (on 1998 and 2001) on ‘Don Quixote’s diet’.

Abstract of Dr Goodwin’s thesis

This thesis examines the representation of food in the work of four key artists and writers of early modern (Golden-Age) Spain: Diego Velázquez’s bodegones (genre paintings), Mateo Alemán’s Guzmán de Alfarache, Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote, and the bodegones (still lifes) of Juan Sánchez Cotán. Food and foodways are defining social symbols that are affected by tradition and environment and are very significant cultural indicators. The representation of food in the different works is compared and contrasted within the broader context of social attitudes to food and poverty.

The thesis offers new interpretations of two texts and highlights some parallels between them, showing that food is central to the way in which the authors presented their narrative. Velázquez’s paintings are discussed in the context of the word bodegón, also used to describe a type of public eating-house. The paintings are then compared with the Guzmán and ideas associated with picaresque literature, and both are understood in the context of changing approaches to poor relief. This highlights two themes that are central to all the works discussed here: morality and realism or literary verisimilitude. These themes are essential elements in the currently unfashionable theme of desengaño, which is shown to be relevant to recent trends in culturally based approaches to history and literature. New interpretations linking food and desengaño are offered for these works resulting in a new assessment of Guzmán’s conversion. The representation of food in Don Quixote is shown to be similar and there is a new interpretation of the episode of the Cave of Montesinos. The thesis challenges recent approaches to Sánchez Cotán’s still lifes and associates them with the manuscript illuminator Juan de Salazar and includes a photograph of Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Salazar that had not been previously published.




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