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)
Chicago-based photographer Freddy Fabris has worked for years on commercial projets for clients like Leo Burnett, Saatchi & Saatchi, and Ogilvy & Mather, but it was a recent decision to focus on a personal project exploded into a bevy of awards and accolades. Fabris, who has a background in painting, had long been ruminating about how to pay tribute to the works of classic painters like Rembrandt and Da Vinci using his camera. While accompanying a friend to a cluttered auto repair shop, inspiration suddenly struck. Fabris would pose the mechanics in the style of classical portraits, and in tableaus reminiscent of Philippe de Champaigne’s The Last Supper and Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam. As he shared the idea with colleagues and collaborators, everyone quickly jumped on board and the Renaissance series was born.
While the photos are admittedly absurd, the staggering amount of craft and skill present in each shot is undeniable. From the careful composition of bodies to the striking use of light to illuminate the face of each subject, the portraits in particular are strangely dignifying. The photos have since won the 1st Place International Color Award, the One Eyeland Silver Award, and an APA Conceptual Award. You can explore more of Fabris’ work on his website.