June di Schino - Sugar Sculpture in Italian Court Banquets

February 19, 2013

Sugar sculpture, a little worse for wear during the conference

The Power of Luxury: Art and Culture at the Italian Courts in Machiavelli’s Lifetime
The Australian Institute of Art History
The University of Melbourne
19 and 20 February, 2013

Session Two - The Decorative Arts at Court - Keynote
Tuesday 19 February 4.00 pm

June di Schino
The Power of Sweetness: Sugar Sculpture in Italian Court Banquets

Drawing on new research and unpublished archival documents, this paper analyses the significance of the extraordinary sugar sculptures which adorned the Italian banquet table from both the artistic and gastronomic points of view, with special reference to their symbolism and the highly difficult techniques required for their manufacture.

A brief history of this ephemeral art form will be traced, starting from the drawings of trionfi di zucchero by famous artists such as Bernini and Sansovino. From the Renaissance onwards sugar, a most costly status symbol, was a substance which communicated power and wealth and liberally employed in cuisine with multiple uses as medicament, flavour enhancer, condiment, and as a decorative element for presentation. Sugar became an icon of the aristocracy who invented exclusive repasts solely of sweetmeats and confectionery.

The complexity and the aesthetics of sugar architecture will be outlined focussing on the first detailed analysis of these showpieces, indicating the different structural types and the wide range of symbolical subjects: religious, mythological, geographical, etc. Sugar sculpture is depicted in splendid illustrations such as the unique watercolour drawing of the banquet in honour of Christina of Sweden, and other fascinating iconographic material. During my research I found an unknown madrigal exalting the virtues of the most famous confectioner of trionfi of the times created especially for the Queen.

A recently discovered unknown manuscript from the court of Pope Alexander VII provides the very first instructions for creating several unique sugar masterworks by the “credenziere”. After banquets these showpieces, together with the drawings, were often offered as gifts to important guests and were treasured as objets d’art.


June di Schino is an Italian cultural historian specialized in food. Graduate of London School of Economics and of École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris with a PhD in medieval history, La Sapienza, Rome. Docent at the University of Roma Tre and Bologna, as a researcher she is particularly interested in the banquet focussing on unpublished manuscripts and archival documents to reconstruct culinary history. To date she has published numerous scientific papers and five books, which have won national and international awards. Curator of twelve important exhibitions on gastronomic history (including Universal Expo), the recent event Magnificence of the Renaissance Banquet at Villa d’Este was considered an international success. An entrepreneurial application is the organization of evocative convivial events, among which medieval banquets (12 courses, 12 theatrical interludes), several “festa gastronomico musicale” for the King of Sweden, the celebrations for Queen Christina in Italy and a series of Renaissance banquets at Seoul and for the State.

Image notes
Sugar sculpture - photo by Hasan Niyazi

nb. Entry created May 4 2013. Dated to Feb 19 (date of presentation) for indexing purposes


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