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Valencian Kitchen

The set of brush-painted tiles on white enamel that make up and decorate this kitchen provide us with valuable information not only about the work done in such spaces, but also what, why, and how food was served. Its four walls tell us that this was a room dedicated to the informal gatherings of a wealthy family in the 18th century, a place where refreshments, entertainments and small meals for guests were held. Many of these gatherings would have revolved around chocolate, one of the most popular foods of the time.

Cocina valenciana
  • The main scene is depicted on the left-hand side entering the space. It shows the lady of the house and her dog supervising how 'the refreshment’ is being prepared by two felame servants. The term ‘refreshment’ is referred to ‘a welcoming selection of drinks, sweets and chocolate, offered for visits and other afternoon gatherings’. Refreshments were held for almost any occasion (weddings, baptisms, First Communions) or no occasion at all, as they were offered in social, fun events that could include dances, parlour games or board games. Although a refreshment could turn into a teatime, dinner, or even supper with several sweet and savoury dishes, they usually remained a snack made up of hot, cold, sweet and sour drinks alongside numerous desserts (sorbets, mousses and ice creams) and - above all - chocolate. Along the wall, these foods are presented on a range of trays and stands to the lady of the house by a row of liveried servants. All wear breeches, a jacket or waistcoat and a coat (French-style suit) and the typical hairstyle of the Spanish court and nobility during this period: a middle parting, two curls over the ears, and a ponytail wrapped in a ribbon with a bow. The kitchen maids who prepared this feast, as well as a black enslaved girl who appears to be sweeping on the far left of the composition, are dressed in the usual clothes worn by the maids of wealthy Valencian society in the second half of the 18th century: skirt or smock, doublet, French-style scarf over the shoulders and apron. The hair was tied back with a hairnet, a headscarf or in the typical bun held in place with hairpins and a hair stick. As an accessory, they could also wear brooches on ribbons around their necks and hoop or dangling earrings. Finally, the lady of the house established her different social position through her French-style dress, her elaborate headdress (escofieta) and her lavish jewellery: pearl necklace and pearl earrings.
  • The tiled wall in front of the door leading to the kitchen is reserved for a trompe l'oeil decoration of kitchen shelves that hold different objects for storing and preparing foodstuffs, such as preserves in earthenware jars and compote pots covered with canvases that read 'Sevillian olives', 'Syrup' And 'Benigani[m] preserves'.
  • The tiled wall on the right side of the ensemble has as its central motif one of the most venerated Marian invocations in Valencia: the image of Our Lady of Mount Carmel handing out scapulars to the souls she has taken out of purgatory.

The ensemble is rounded off by a wall that depicts a narrative scene linked to the refreshment service described above: a male figure, the errand boy, returns with the shopping in two baskets and is received (and reprimanded) by the housekeeper. The scene is completed by another servant girl holding a chiller who seems to be drawn in by the scolding.

All the decorative scenes described above are complemented on all four walls by other trompe l'oeil motifs: hanging from nails and hooks we can find all kinds of objects (pots, pans, cauldrons, spoons, pans, mortars, cruets, braziers, grills, trivets) and foodstuffs such as birds (roosters, turkeys, ducks, partridges, quails and woodcock), mammals (rabbits and lambs, alive and dead), fish (fresh and salted), fruit, vegetables and cured meats (hams, sausages, salami, etc.).

Finally, it should be noted that this decorative ensemble is completed with additions that aim to recreate the original appearance of the kitchen, such as a wellhead, a stove, a worktop and a steam hood.

In short, this piece displays a wide decorative repertoire captured in four tile panels from an 18th century Valencian palace, thanks to which we can catch a ‘first-hand’ glimpse of what went on inside rooms such as this one.