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Old 01-04-2018, 09:39 PM   #1
xoxoxoBruce
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Jan 5th, 2018: Mystery Knives

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These rare knives—only sixteen are extant—are perplexing in both their design and their use. Who was carving meat with these blades, and are they the same people who were singing the music etched onto their blades?
The blades, which date from the early to mid-16th century, all seem to have been made somewhere in France, but for an unknown Italian client. Italian knives of the period typically bore a coat of arms or emblem that would be upright when the knife was held point up; in other countries, one viewed the emblem holding the knife horizontally.

Transcribing the notation reveals that all the knives we know of come from just two separate sets. They don’t seem to represent a lost Renaissance tradition of singing meat carvers so much as the peculiar needs of a singular institution. Today, the knives are scattered across collections in France, England, the Netherlands, and Philadelphia.


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The craftsmanship and materials are superb; many have exquisitely decorated ivory handles. Their unusual shape—a broad, flat blade with a pointed tip—is the first mystery. The point evokes a smenbratori, or carving knife (carvers jammed the tip into a joint of a roast and twisted to break it open). But to a bladesmith like Josh Davis, who recreated one of the knives from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, it doesn’t seem designed with serious cutting in mind. “It isn’t really supposed to be well-balanced,” he says. “I think it was more of a serving knife.” A knife that’s really more of a spatula, in other words, with a broad, flat blade that also provides a convenient surface for the music.

One side of the blade bears a Latin Benedictus, or blessing, to be sung before a meal (“May the three-in-one bless what we are about to eat”); and on the other side, a Grace, for afterward (“We give thanks to you, God, for your generosity”). The wording is the same on both sets of knives, and is not a phrasing known elsewhere, which again suggests the requests of a unique client.


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Of the two sets, one seems to be for four singers, the other for six. (Some of the knives are duplicates, so there aren’t 16 different lines of music.) In the latter case, one knife is labeled “Superius II,” implying the existence of a missing “Superius I.” The music itself is typical of its period, albeit necessarily brief. Recordings made for The Victoria and Albert Museum last a very pleasant 30 seconds.
It’s likely that the knives’ original use was more ritual than practical. “What makes sense is some sort of social gathering that regularly takes place that has that sort of formal element to it,” says Dr. Flora Dennis of the University of Sussex, who’s done extensive research on the knives and coordinated the V&A recording. “It could be a court, it could be a confraternity [a lay religious or charitable society], or it could be something like an academy [a more secular, formalized intellectual or artistic group].”
Or maybe they were used for slicing up tender babies.

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Old 01-05-2018, 08:17 PM   #2
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Maybe they're part of a "Kastrati Konstruction Kit", Measure and Adjust with *just one tool*! They supply the Materials. We supply the Means. The Motive is *up to you*!
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Old 01-05-2018, 11:25 PM   #3
sexobon
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It looks like a women's club conversation piece from the dainty grip to the decorative point. Probably a whimsical gift among the affluent. There's no guard or finger choil so it was intended for light cutting. The length of the cutting edge isn't curved so it was intended for use on a flat cutting surface. The point is decorated to the edge so it wasn't intended for use. It was probably relegated to cake/bread cutting duty at high tea.
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Old 01-07-2018, 03:10 PM   #4
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I almost suggested cake knife.

Or one of those Holy Spatula things with which they hand out the crackers.
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Old 01-07-2018, 10:28 PM   #5
xoxoxoBruce
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Originally Posted by sexobon View Post
It looks like a women's club conversation piece from the dainty grip to the decorative point. Probably a whimsical gift among the affluent. There's no guard or finger choil so it was intended for light cutting. The length of the cutting edge isn't curved so it was intended for use on a flat cutting surface. The point is decorated to the edge so it wasn't intended for use. It was probably relegated to cake/bread cutting duty at high tea.
Do they have high tea in Italy?
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Old 01-07-2018, 11:04 PM   #6
sexobon
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They do now!

Tea was supposedly introduced to Europe by a traveling Italian right around the same time those knives were made. There were probably upper class, late afternoon/early evening, social gatherings where food was served before the nighttime meal at about eight (as was the practice then). The actual English term High Tea; however, wouldn't come into use for another century.

Last edited by sexobon; 01-07-2018 at 11:10 PM. Reason: tossed a couple commas in
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