|Set of wooden trenchers.|
The Victoria & Albert Museum
Made between 1600 and 1630, this set of twelve wooden trenchers—still in their original box—owes its excellent condition to the fact that it was only to be used on special occasions: Christmas, Easter, New Year. The plates were set with the smooth , gold or silver side up at the end of a meal and were used to serve each dinner guest a delicate treat—marzipan, sugar plums, candied fruits. When the morsel was finished, the guest would turn over his or her trencher to reveal the painted side which was adorned with a scene illustrating one of the “Wonders of the World” as well as a poem, verse or riddle which was to be read aloud for the enjoyment of the other guests. The inscription is written around a band of guilloche ornament.
The theme of “The Wonders of the World” is to be taken rather loosely. In fact, each roundel depicts an individual character—an opulently attired lady, a soldier or a gentleman. The “Wonders of the World” concept really comes into play with the verses which describe the joys of life while poking fun at the weaknesses of mankind. The verses were originally written by John Davies especially for trenchers at a New Year party given around 1600 by Thomas Sackville, Ist Earl of Dorset. According to the V&A, “They were published in 1608 and were then available for other trencher makers to copy.” Similar sets of trenchers which were also made in England during the early Seventeenth Century depict flowers with biblical verses and proverbs.
Such a luxurious set of trenchers could only have been afforded by the very wealthy. This particular set was certainly treasured and given the best care and attention as it shows no signs of wear whatsoever. The box, even, is in excellent condition. The round box features a decorated with two male figures, a rooster and a tree, with a building and a beacon in the background. The initials 'E.W.' on the box could wither be those of the owner or the maker.
I won't post pictures of all twelve. But, here are a couple of examples.