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shopping list michelangelo

text: Mila Montagni

March 31, 2020

Food shopping lists with 500 years of history, tastes and table habits of the great Tuscan artists

Man does not live by art alone. This is also taught by Cellini, Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, Pontormo, Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli.

Discovering in diaries and papers, in chronicles and stories, the relationship between artists and food is fascinating. And there are also many curious anecdotes that come out of it.

Perseus with the head of Medusa, in the Loggia dei Lanzi, in Piazza della Signoria

A braggart in his own generous way, Benvenuto Cellini initials the fusion of his Perseus with a thank you to God for the success of the epic enterprise and with a "salad plate" together with his entire brigade of apprentices and workers. And the next morning, he recounts, "I got out of bed, which was near the hour of desining" and a "good servant girl of his, without me telling her anything, had tried on a fat hat" so that lunch was ready but the dishes were missing - having been used to finish the fusion of his masterpiece, together with some of those of the kitchens of Palazzo Vecchio! So, continues the artist in his Vita, "he sent himself to buy back, in exchange for those tin plates and bowls, lots of earthenware, and we all happily desinamoed".

in 2020 it is 600 years since the laying of the first stone of Brunelleschi's dome

And if Michelangelo, five hundred years ago, sent out the servants to do the shopping with the list specified by the drawings of the food to be purchased, Brunelleschi, in order to avoid wasting time during the lunch break of the workers climbing on the scaffolding of his dome, adapted the recipe of "peposo dell'Impruneta" - typical of the workers of the famous kilns that prepared in the jars the meat well dosed with pepper and cooked in red wine - to the available funds, making it arrive on the site boards with the winches, thus avoiding too much waste of time.

Detail of Pontormo's portrait in the Trinity by Alessandro Allori (Chapel of San Luca, Basilica della Santissima Annunziata, Florence)

One artist whose tastes are known is Pontormo: a childhood of hardship and poor health had made him shy, moody and thrifty, to the point that he never missed a meal offered by friends and acquaintances, with a predilection for those of his closest pupil - Bronzino, Agnolo di Cosimo - and who relied on the products of his vegetable garden and fruit trees, where he also spent the hot mornings. The painter often fasted or ate once a day, perhaps even the spoiled meat that the helper Bastiano had bought cheaply "so he could skim over the groceries"! From Il libro mio, then, one knows his great passion for eggs, at least one a day according to the legend, and how the food intersected with his work, he notes in fact: "I dined a heart of lamb, boiled dried meat and 10 ounces of bread; and I started that arm of that figure who is like that" and sketches a detail of the work he is carrying on.

among the thousand passions of leonardo da vinci there was not even a lack of good cuisine

In this interweaving of artists, kitchens and centuries, Leonardo da Vinci could not be absent. When he was very young, he would have opened the Osteria All'insegna delle tre ranocchie with Botticelli (he would have even designed the menu for illiterate patrons), while Leonardo would have begun to design the many kitchen tools that would make the joy of his fantescha Maturina, also mentioned in his will. For certain we know from Vasari that, when he passed "from the places where birds were sold, by his own hand by removing them from cages and paying the price that was asked of them, he left them in the air in flight, giving them back their lost freedom". With good peace of mind who was waiting for him to cook his lunch.


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