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"Supper with Shakespeare: The Evolution of English Banqueting" at The MIA

A new MIA exhibition focusing on culinary history brings the Tudor period room to life—with real food.

Photo courtesy of Minneapolis Institute of Arts

With its dark wood paneling and sturdy, unembellished furnishings, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts’ Tudor period room may seem a bit somber to some—yet it’s exactly the sort of room where a 17th-century aristocrat might have entertained a select group of companions at a banquet.

Supper with Shakespeare: The Evolution of English Banqueting, an exhibition rooted in culinary history, offers a glimpse of a period dinner party—or, rather, part of one. After all, the word “banquet” meant something quite different back in the day. Then, a banquet was a gathering within a gathering in which a select group of guests would join the host for dessert after a feast, and the host would go to great lengths to surprise and delight the guests with lavish cakes and confections.

That’s where British culinary historian Ivan Day comes in. Besides knowing a lot about food, Day actually cooks and crafts elaborate 17th-century desserts. For this exhibition, he will be re-creating an entire banquet, complete with sweetmeats and other delicacies including a marchpane, the British cousin to marzipan, in the form of an intricate coat of arms.

Cori Wegener, MIA associate curator of decorative arts, textiles, and sculpture, describes Supper with Shakespeare as an example of “experimental archaeology.” As unusual as the setting and food may be, using food as a connecting cultural element resonates in the here and now. “This notion of planning a special meal with surprising elements for special guests doesn’t change much over the ages,” says Wegener. “I hope this exhibition gets people thinking about why we eat the way we do today.” Opens Dec. 13. Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 612-870-3000, artsmia.org

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