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Festivals Research Guide

A research guide focusing on documents of European festivals from the 16th through the early 20th century from the Festival collections of the Getty Library


  • Banquets
  • Cookbooks, Serving Manuals, and Compilations
  • Cuccagna Monuments
  • Street Festivals
  • Tableware: Meissonnier's Designs



Court and civic banquets were an integral part of the conspicuous consumption that characterized festival productions. Decorations, sculptures, and favors made of food were designed to give focus to the theater of the table. Featuring specially commissioned works of art, precious metals, glass, crystal, rare fruit, and rich confections, the banquet's ornate presentation signaled the wealth of the patron and the eminence of the guests.







Giacomo-Maria Giovannini Table sculpture made from sugar, designed for a banquet given in 1693. View Full Record


Cookbooks, Serving Manuals, and Compilations

Based on oral traditions passed down from master chefs and stewards, cookbooks and manuals began to be published in the 16th century. These practical manuals provided detailed instructions on ingredients, food preparation, menus, table settings, carving, and the art of table decoration, including folded napkins. By the 18th century, reference books like Diderot's Encyclopédie presented definitions and in-depth descriptions of all aspects of culinary production.




Horseshoe-shaped table for 50 place settings from Juan de la Mata's Arte de Reposteria(1747). View Full Record


Cuccagna Monuments

According to folklore, the Land of Cockaigne (Cuccagna in Italian) was a mythical place of plenty, like paradise on earth. Temporary art and architecture based on the legend took the form of outdoor monuments; these often consisted of structures made of wood scaffolding, papier-mâché, stucco, and were decorated with meat, cheese, bread, and pastry, usually built in the central square of the city or near the royal palace.




Guiseppe Vasi Cuccagna monument erected in 1747 in celebration of the birth of the king's son. View Full Record


Street Festivals

Following patterns set by Roman triumphs and medieval religious processions, popular festivals took place in city streets. These celebrations marked court anniversaries, civic holidays, and religious feast days, such as Carnival, during the days just before Lent. Harvest festivals celebrated the success of a region's agricultural products, often incorporating the gathering of grapes and winemaking into the ceremonies.



Andreas Benedictus Göbl Tarot or trump card depicting a hunter's wagon, from Göbl's Baurn Hochzeit (ca. 1765). View Full  Record





Tableware: Meissonnier's Designs

Modeled on real fruits, vegetables, and shellfish, Meissonnier's fantastic variations designed for silverware correspond directly to earlier sugar paste table sculptures. They complement artistic table displays made of food and ice, echoing designs for porcelain from the same period. 





Gabriel Huquier Plate from the Oeuvre de Juste Aurele Meissonnier (1742– 1748) showing a tureen. View Full Record