Fork and spoon, Nuremberg, Germany, 1600-1630, The Robert L. Metzenberg Collection, Gift of Eleanor L. Metzenberg, 1985-103-81,-82

More than a Mouthful

Until the seventeenth century–and even after that–knives and forks were personal accoutrements that travelled with their owner.  They were also a status symbol and something you might present to an honored guest or your host to show off the artistry of your home area, and to signal your wealth and refinement.  Even the use of the fork showed a level of refinement when this spoon and fork were made.  The individual fork started its life for eating desserts–candied fruits–at dessert banquets. The fact that the fork was associated with decadent food meant that it was not universally approved of, and it was a luxury item.  Using it meant that you did not sully the food nor did it do so to your fingers, showing an interest in cleanliness as well as making you look more elegant as you raised the food to your lips.

With this duo, a masculine Germanic knight type forms the handle of the fork, whereas the spoon has a seductive female figure of more Italianate styling carrying a basin over her head with her back in an arch-form curve, as if to respond to the fork, while the curve functions as a support for the finger while holding the spoon. The coral would have been an expensive imported material for the German carver who created the handles and for the owner. The designs for the figures probably were inspired by engravings known to more educated patrons. The fork tines and the spoon are silver-gilt which gives the impression of gold but the strength of silver. As gold is softer it would bend with pressure. The overall effect of the red coral and the gold color is rich and very striking. This, when combined with the erudite source of the ornament, the quality of the carving and the value of the materials would tell the recipient or the viewer that the owner was a highly sophisticated person of wealth. It would have made a spectacular present or a great personal statement when put on the table or brought out from a carrying case. The next time you sit down to eat, look at what your fork and spoon look like and try to imagine having someone judge your status by them.

Museum Number: 
1985-103-81,-82