Notation Knives, c. 16th century. Artist unknown. Fitzwilliam Museum Collection, Cambridge. Photo by Johan Oosterman.
It’s not exactly musical chairs, but this Renaissance-era cutlery can carry a tune at any table setting. Dating back to the 16th century, these extremely rare knives are engraved with musical scores complete with lyrics. On one side is a benediction that may have been sung before a meal, and then a grace on the reverse side that was sung after eating. For instance the knife below reads: “The blessing of the table. May the three-in-one bless that which we are about to eat.” And the other side reads: “The saying of grace. We give thanks to you God for your generosity.”
Left & right views of an etched, engraved and gilded steel knife with ivory, brass and silver handle, by an unknown maker, Italy, 1500–50.
What isn’t clear to historians is how this may have all played out in actuality. It would be uncommon for a wealthy Italian family who might have possessed such opulent knives to cut their own meat, the task instead performed by a squire. But perhaps they were reserved only for special ceremonies or holidays. Kristen Kalber, a curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum where some of these knives are kept, lays out a few theories in the video below.
Luckily for us the V&A’s Medieval & Renaissance Galleries approached the Royal College of Music to create recordings of what the music on the notation knives sounds like when performed by a choir. Here are examples of a benediction and grace from one knife, but you can hear additional recordings on the V&A website. (via My Modern Met, Open Culture, WQXR)
Designed by blacksmith Toru Yamashita in Japan’s Kochi-prefecture, these high carbon steel knives are designed in the form of five different whales, the blades forming the baleen mouth of each species. The Kujira blades were originally made for children as a tool for sharpening pencils or cutting paper, but have since been marketed abroad as a general purpose utility or chef knife. At about $50 each the knives aren’t cheap, but it appears the whale shape is strangely perfect for small hands and with the right care they would probably last a lifetime. Some of the models are available through Hand-Eye Supply, but it looks like a few are sold by Yoshihiro Cutlery on Amazon. (via Core77, Attics of my Life)
Artist Li Hongbo, whose flexible paper sculptures we’ve admired many times here on Colossal, recently created a new series of silhouette artworks as part of a solo show at Contemporary by Angela Li in Hong Kong. Each piece is delicately cut from the knife leaving a complementary negative space from which it appears to rise. Hongbo says the pieces are meant as a warning, that “human beings will eventually destroy themselves because of their gluttony and their abuse of animals.” You can see more from the series here. If you liked this technique, also check out paper sculptures by Peter Callesen. (via My Amp Goes to 11)