She's got a fork!
Ever since I wrote my first book on food history (1997) I have been intrigued by a painting by Jacob Jordaens, The King Drinks, or The Bean King, celebrating Epiphany. There are several versions of this painting, but I prefer the one in the Royal Museum of Art in Brussels, dated circa 1640. At the right the king sits, drinking his wine and holding a beautiful Raeren or Siegburg spouted jug probably filled with Renish wine.
He is surrounded by a group of boisterous people, but he shares the table with a pretty woman who is holding a fork with three tines. She is really showing of her quite unique possession. Because, in 1640, few people ate with a fork. So, she is not only dressed very modish and expensive, but also has nice table manners. She is really standing out from the crowd.
For years I’ve been trying to identify the fork. Last year I bought a book: Cutlery, from Gothic to Art Deco, the J. Hollander Collection, 2003. And there I found the fork, or, one very similar to it. A gilt silver fork with three tines, made in Germany, early 17th century. That fits with the painting. It also fits with the German earthenware jug. The design is typical German Renaissance, according to the book, with some similarities to the work of Erasmus Hornick, who was born in Antwerp and lived 50 years earlier. Hornick also worked in Nuremberg (1559) and Augsburg (1570) and died in Prague (1583). But among Hornicks vast amount of work I don’t find cutlery.
Jacob Jordaens (1593 – 1678) never left Antwerp, apart from a few trips to the Netherlands. Jordaens was the son of a wealthy linen merchant. Antwerp a trading port. German wine and earthenware were popular in the Netherlands and Flanders, so a fork might very well have been among the presents brought home after a trip to Nuremberg, Frankfurt, Cologne (Köln) or Aix-la-Chapelle/Aachen.