‘We Represent the Fritter-Makers’ Guild’

A Painting in Venice Gives Chief Pancake Flippers Some Credibility

Sweets in Venice. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

Sweets in Venice. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

What makes me notice the sign of the fritter-makers guild is not the unionization of pastry makers centuries ago but the food itself. Overwhelmed by so much religious art on my most recent visit to Italy, I try to make my scrutiny of so many masterpieces in such a short period of time more manageable by focusing on food—first on what is depicted in the last supper of Jesus Christ, and then, more broadly, what food is shown at all, from how it is prepared and presented to what it actually is. Especially with respect to paintings of the last supper, what the entrée was is sometimes hard to tell.

So I am amused when I see some old-time cooking going on in an image from the 1600s accompanied by an explanation of the name of the artwork: it is a Signboard of the Fritter Makers’ Guild. The work, attributed to Gaetano Zompini, was painted in 1637 and repainted more than 100 years later in 1784.

A somewhat blurry image of a Signboard of the Fritter Maker’s Guild, or Insegna dell’Arte dei fritoleri, at the Doge Palace in Venice. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

A somewhat blurry image of a Signboard of the Fritter Maker’s Guild, or Insegna dell’Arte dei fritoleri, at the Doge Palace in Venice. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

Curious, I learn that Zompini lived from 1700 to 1778, years that exclude the dates mentioned as those which the painting was made. Hmm. Frittering away some time on the fritters and their makers and their recorders, I learn that craft guilds in Venice were fairly common in the 1500s and that people could only become members following an apprenticeship.

I delight in knowing that there actually existed a fritter-makers guild and that its existence is perpetuated in this work on display at the Doge Palace in Venice. One cannot help but wonder how one’s own work would be portrayed by an artist and whether that work would be understandable to a viewer 400 years from now.

The Takeaway for Other Bashful Adventurers

It is easy for large volumes of art to overwhelm you. Try scrutinizing paintings for images that you are interested in or want to learn more about, like fashion, or shoes, or hairstyles, or food, or pets. How are these similar to or different from today’s versions?

—Lori Tripoli

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