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‘Ite dolci alimenti’: a confectionery speculum principis for a cardinal-duke

Thursday 3 November 2022, 5.15PM

Speaker(s): Virginia Cox (Trinity College Cambridge)

This paper examines the surviving evidence for an unusual gift offered to Ferdinando de’ Medici, during the brief period in 1587-88 in which he was both cardinal and grand duke of Tuscany: a sculptural confection in cotognata (quince paste) incorporating twelve allegorical figures of virtues.

We know of this ‘edible monument’ through a record in Angelo Grillo’s 1589 Rime morali, which comprises twelve madrigals carried by these figures—presumably originally written on scrolls or flags— together with an accompanying sonnet and a prose argomento explaining the context of the gift.

The intriguing textual-material artifact the poems memorialise may be read as a capricious take on the rhetorical tradition of the speculum principis, as well as a witty materialization of the Lucretian metaphor of poetry as a sweetener for philosophical ‘medicine’. The paper proposes a reading of this vanished culinary artwork from the perspectives of the histories of food, medicine, poetry, gender, and political thought.

Location: The Treehouse, Berrick Saul Building