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A Feast for the Eyes

Art, Performance, and the Late Medieval Banquet

To read accounts of late medieval banquets is to enter a fantastical world where live lions guard nude statues, gilded stags burst into song, and musicians play from within pies. We can almost hear the clock sound from within a glass castle, taste the fire-breathing roast boar, and smell the rose water cascading in a miniature fountain. Such vivid works of art and performance required collaboration among artists in many fields, as well as the participation of the audience.

A Feast for the Eyes is the first book-length study of the court banquets of northwestern Europe in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Christina Normore draws on an array of artworks, archival documents, chroniclers’ accounts, and cookbooks to re-create these events and reassess the late medieval visual culture in which banquets were staged. Feast participants, she shows, developed sophisticated ways of appreciating artistic skill and attending to their own processes of perception, thereby forging a court culture that delighted in the exercise of fine aesthetic judgment.

Challenging modern assumptions about the nature of artistic production and reception, A Feast for the Eyes yields fresh insight into the long history of multimedia work and the complex relationships between spectacle and spectators.

272 pages | 4 color plates, 35 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2015

Art: European Art

Food and Gastronomy

History: European History

Medieval Studies


“A richly researched study. . . . Capturing the glamour and excess of medieval feasting, Normore draws on evidence from historical chronicles, literary texts and, above all, visual images, engaging us as spectators of historical events and participants in their textual deconstruction.”

Times Higher Education

“By pointing to the complex cultural and artistic interactions of the banquets devised for the Burgundian court, A Feast for the Eyes makes a welcome and sophisticated addition to an emerging body of work on the persistent mixing of media that characterized the public culture of late medieval Europe. . . . As resolutely as its subject, A Feast for the Eyes escapes scholarly categories and invites the appreciation of a wide range of readers.”

Medieval Review

“Well researched and documented and written in an engaging manner. . . . Recommended.”


“[A] serious reflection on the multisensory synthesis of visual, culinary and performance art that was the medieval banquet. . . . Countering old stereotypes of the banquet as blowout, [Normore] points to its exemplary role in promoting refinement and moderation.”

Times Literary Supplement

“This fascinating book is thoroughly researched, utilizing a wide range of sources, from varied visual material to chronicles, cook-books, philosophy, literature and even music, and does a formidable job of bringing ephemeral late medieval banquets to life in their full sensory complexity. Normore is to be commended for mastering such a diverse array of sources, crossing media and disciplinary boundaries herself, and contributing so much to our understanding of not only feasting, but of late medieval aristocratic culture in general.”


“[A] diligent study. . . . There are perspicuous readings of depictions of the virtues, of Margaret of York performing her seven acts of charity in the unseen presence of the Savior, and an attentive examination of the Ghent altarpiece.”

World of Fine Wine

“A marvelously rich and theoretically astute study of the banquet as performance. . . . Normore is to be applauded for her interdisciplinary skills, for weaving together chronicler and visual evidence, and for seeking the cultural and intellectual underpinnings in a diverse array of sources. . . . The strength of Normore’s book is in its elevating the banquet as a ritual event that merits independent study, its capacious definition of the artwork and literature that were its components, and its detailed attention to intellectual antecedents and elements: display, engagement, wonder, comportment, and moral discernment, among others.”


“In seeking to understand the medieval feast, Normore approaches a number of genres: chronicles, mémoires, letters, inventories, cookbooks, French romance and poetry, and visual arts ranging from metalwork to tapestry. Her mastery of this broad variety of material from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries is in itself a major accomplishment. Through fresh and thorough research, Normore situates the medium of the entremets within the feast and thereby gives readers access to this highly original and very different art form. This book is important.”

Anne D. Hedeman, University of Kansas

“Normore’s readings of images are convincing and eloquent. Not only do they shed light on previously misunderstood or ignored elements of those images, but they also elucidate ways in which the images would have played an instrumental role in shaping their audiences’ understanding of, and participation in, rituals of the table. Beautifully written, A Feast for the Eyes brings the period to life in a masterful way.”

Stephen Perkinson, Bowdoin College

“Normore has revealed a marvel-filled combination of visual, culinary, mechanical, and performing arts and re-created the elite experience of banqueting, freely and fruitfully crossing disciplinary boundaries. Her reconstituted entremets offer a bounty for medievalists of all stripes and bring to life the autumnal blaze within late medieval chronicles.”

Larry Silver, University of Pennsylvania

“With its demonstration of the inseparability of the aesthetic and the political in the multi-media arts of the Burgundian banquet, this book will be welcomed by scholars of pre-modern courtly culture. Normore challenges the received view of such spectacle as the self-consuming excess of a civilization in decline; the entertainments she describes were not only regarded as important historical events, but functioned as secular eucharists that transformed the hedonistic into community values and provided a choreography for the legitimate performance of emotion. A Feast for the Eyes is a key revisionist study of aristocratic leisure.”

Stephen Campbell, Johns Hopkins University

Table of Contents

Introduction: Setting the Table
Chapter 1: Between the Dishes
Chapter 2: Spectator-Spectacle
Chapter 3: Efficacy and Hypocrisy
Chapter 4: Dining Well
Chapter 5: Stranger at the Table
Chapter 6: Wedding Reception

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