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Knife inscribed with Musical Notation and Prayers of Grace and Benediction

Artist/maker unknown, Italian

Made in Italy, Europe

16th century

Steel blade; engraved ivory handle

1 3/8 x 11 3/4 inches (3.5 x 29.8 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Decorative Arts and Sculpture

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Purchased with Museum funds from the Edmond Foulc Collection, 1930

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This knife is a remarkable hybrid, both a serving utensil and a piece of music. Study of surviving examples shows that it once belonged to a larger set, which when complete provided music for a song to be performed by multiple voices. Musical notes appear on the blade with prayers of grace and benediction to be said before and after a meal. Inscriptions on each blade indicate the vocal range required to perform the music. The song on the blade could have been performed by its bearer at the beginning and close of a banquet. In the 1500s music was often performed at home, and studying music was as important as knowledge of arithmetic, grammar, and geometry.

The broad shape of each blade resembles the form of knives made for carving and presenting meat, a ceremonial activity at courtly banquets, where technical virtuosity was necessary for the artful serving of food.