Art at the table


"Il comprar le ciambelle è buona usanza, /d'aniso d'oglio di botro (burro) e d'uova, // Non solo il companatico s'avanza, /ma il comprator l'economia ritrova."

Francesco Maria (1660-1710) was just three when his brother the Most Serene Crown Prince had him have his portrait done. Posing as still as he can, he holds a plumed hat in his hand. His eyes are big and serious, while just the hint of a smile plays about his mouth. He is wearing a long silky gown, smothered in long pleats and bows. The lion’s foot of the little table tells us that he is a member of the royal family; on the top of the table are fragments of rolled and broken wafers, while the prince is holding a fragrant ciambella, or doughnut, in his hand.

A simple sweetmeat that has been around for ages which, from a figurative aspect, is both an ornament and an accessory. It is to be found in the paintings in different contexts: it may be connected with the world of childhood, or of pets, or used merely as a formal connection. Here we could perhaps see it as a presage of what the child was to become: the merry cardinal, lively and good-humoured, his spirits possibly raised further by a cup of good chocolate. It is a portrait that also reveals to us the close relations with the teeming underworld of the kitchens, which were huge in the royal palace. This was a place in which the strict etiquette of the court was relaxed and to which the little Francesco Maria had access, and who knows what inner appetites he wanted to appease with those sweet supplies...

"Grigioni siam vendiamo buozolari./ Qua e la giriam per guadagnar denari"

In this print we can see a street vendor who with a certain elegant nonchalance is offering his sweetmeats for sale in the square. These doughnut sellers, who were known as bozzolari – a term that comes from the Venetian dialect word bussolai meaning sweetmeats (from which the name of the traditional Sicilian cake buccellato also derives) – appear in a number of drawings and prints. It is an image that brings us right back to the doughnut sellers wandering up and down our own beaches in the summer, and who are now becoming increasingly rare. What a shame!

Modern recipe

700 g flour, 4 medium-size potatoes, 100 g butter, 1 pinch salt, rind of 1 lemon, 4 eggs, 1 glass of milk, 1 lump of brewer’s yeast, 1 sachet of vanilla, oil (for frying), sugar (for dusting)
Boil the potatoes and then mash them until you have a smooth puree. Warm the milk to blood-heat and dissolve the yeast in it, then mix this into the flour with the beaten eggs, the melted butter, the grated lemon rind, the potato puree and the vanilla.
Knead the dough thoroughly and then leave it to rise for 1-2 hours. Break balls off the dough and roll them into sausages and then form into rings.
Fry them in plenty of oil, and when they are golden toss them while still hot in the sugar, and then again while they are still warm.

Art at the table