4A Liceo scientifico (astronomico)Gobetti-Volta, Bagno a Ripoli (Firenze)*

The universe that revolves around food and Renaissance banquets has always had a link with the heavens. In the most refined and popular festivals tables, the reference to what moves in the upper spaces is constant. The intertwining of celestial symbols and food choreographies is recurrent in the engineering works by the ingenious Leonardo.


Between Humanism and the Renaissance, the banquet acquires a fundamental function on a social and cultural level, connected to tradition and precise knowledge of that time, such as astronomy and astrology, with a particular hint to the cuisine of the leaders and the aristocrats.

These gastronomic traditions have their roots in the treaties of the late fourteenth century, which led to a more advanced conception of the banquet. First, they created a proper form of art and study subject, which associated the banquet to the theatrical productions with the principal intention of entertaining through numerous shows.

Among the many texts issued, concerning the correct sociality happening around the table, we have the famous treatise Galateo: The Rules of Polite Behaviour, short writing of 1558 by Giovanni Della Casa. It illustrates that, at the table, form matters as much as substance.

While the medieval theories, for which it was necessary, according to the liturgical calendar, the alternation of lean and fat days in the cuisine, the Renaissance ones manifested that feeling of re-birth typical of this era, following the new impulses, sometimes philosophical and scientific, other times magical.

Among other aspects, the belief in the close analogy between the celestial, natural and human worlds, all created by God according to an established vertical hierarchy, was fundamental. Therefore, divided into the four elements earth, water, air and fire, nature followed an ascending order. Henceforth each animal was nobler than the one placed below and less noble than the one above.

In this period a real science of food was born, the so-called gastronomy. As a result, the figure of cook also changed; in fact, he began to take on the duty of making good food for the health of human beings, both physically and spiritually. I.e., since the Middle Ages, they suggested eating according to the mood, following the medieval theory of the four temperaments. Essentially, a cook was in part also thaumaturge.

As already mentioned, a synergy was formed between the culinary art and astrology, as certified by the wedding feast between Costanzo Sforza and Camilla d’Aragona, which took place on 28 May 1475.

In fact, during this celebration, a set-up was prepared, consisting of elaborate mythological-astrological choreography. The ceiling of the main hall covered in blue cloths decorated with motifs representing the zodiac signs, the constellations and the five planets. At the centre of these draperies were the Sun, the Moon, and a door to Paradise that opened to bring down the two stars alternately.

Around the three main elements, they created stars of different sizes, employing about 2500 mirrors.

They divided the banquet area into two parts: the first, subject to the effects of Sun, controlling the hot food; the second, under that of Moon, characterised the cold dishes. In turn, they divided these parts into six other sections, representing the 12 zodiac signs and therefore their spheres of influence.

Furthermore, an enormous composition in Parmesan cheese, representing the Sun and the God Apollo, accompanied the first-course hot meals.


An example of the connection between the sky and the traditional table is many Florentine festivals celebrated in the various open-air spaces around the city, and still popular today. These festivals have their roots in popular culture and chained to the religious traditions of the town.

The first of these historical festivals looks to the sky for its religious aspect. It occurs on the 25 March: the Florentine New Year. On this occasion, they celebrated the Annunciation of Mary inside the church of the Santissima Annunziata. They held the Annunziata Fair on the square, where mint sweets, hazelnut biscuits, brigidini and, even panini col ramerino, also called benedetti, since brought into the church to be blessed. Pan di ramerino is a type of sweet bread with rosemary, a fragrant spice that grows spontaneously in the coastal areas of the Mediterranean. Street vendors sold it in front of the church entrances. Thanks to this custom, this sweet, if we can define so, spread throughout Tuscany.

In June, Florence glorifies Saint John, celebrated on the 24th of the month. It was the most renowned festival in town, where the astronomical link between earth and sky was intense. The date coincides with the summer solstice; already in ancient times, they celebrated it in both the Celtic world and the Greco-Roman paganism. In popular tradition, it coincided with the harvest and threshing festival, while in Christian culture the reference was to St. John the Baptist, who through the baptism of Jesus bestowed the indissoluble bond between God and man. In Florence, the feast of the patron saint started on the eve of the 24th. They used to hold the Palio dei Cocchi in Piazza di Santa Maria Novella. Next, the crowd moved to see the illumination of the Dome and the Bell Tower, as well as the fireworks initially fired on the Arnolfo Tower of Palazzo Vecchio.

On this night, since, on an astronomical level, the sun is at the farthest point, and they celebrate the exact interaction between heaven and earth, they believe that some products of nature perform a thaumaturgical function, such as herbs that bestow magical powers because blessed by dew. Once left to dry out, they can drive away demons. The water called Water of St. John was well known and highly sought after, a miraculous mixture that was said to prevent all kinds of diseases, whose principal function was to enhance the effects of other well-known medicinal herbs.

On the morning of the 24th, the rite of Homages took place. The Municipalities of the Contado and the Florentine Dominion offered their Candles to the beautiful St. John. On such occasion, even before the fourteenth century, several floats called torri (towers) or candele (candles) paraded, built of wood by skilled artisans, decorated with carvings and embossed figures and, habitually, ending in a truncated pyramid. The people then returned home and celebrated with large banquets, fifes, songs and dances. Instead, the Florentine authorities, in the presence of ambassadors, ecclesiastics, knights, moved to the official celebration. The banquet was based mainly on fish: 36 sturgeons, lampreys, and many Arno and sea fish. The celebrations in honour of St. John, patron saint of Florence, were the most important of the whole year.

In summer, 10 August, the feast of San Lorenzo took place in the namesake Florentine district. As known, in this time of the year, we can observe multitudes of shooting stars, due to a swarm of meteors, the Perseids, the earth crosses during its revolution around the sun. The monks of the homonymous church distributed food to the poor, including the famous porrea or leek pie. Besides, as a distinct sign of celebration, carbonata was also prepared, well-seasoned grilled meat, even with citrus fruits, with leek pie as a side dish. Furthermore, in the square in front of the church, the great exhibition of bakers and pasta makers took place, with stalls filled with all types of bread and pasta; hence the Florentine tradition of eating well-seasoned lasagna for that date. 

These examples of Florentine festivals show that the relationship between heaven and cuisine concerned powerful men, rich people and men of culture but fully involved the lower classes, halfway between religious tradition and popular culture.


Food in the Renaissance was so relevant that it was also of interest to cultured and eclectic men like Leonardo Da Vinci. Our genius not only wonders in the artistic or scientific field but also for his forays into the kitchen. For family reasons and during his Florentine experience, Leonardo had to deal with kitchens and inns from an early age.

He states, “Life of men is made of the food they eat”, which is why his culinary study is not only an accessory but also an integral part of his theory of the Renaissance. A vision centred on harmony and care for aesthetics emerges. Significant is Leonardo’s ability as inventor since he developed useful tools (some still used today). From the smallest, such as mechanical nutcracker, wind egg slicer, food warmer, spaghetti machine, three-pronged fork, garlic and meat chopper, pepper mill; to the more complex and bulky ones, including devices for automating roast cooking and slicing ham, huge proto-blenders turned by a standing man. The most unusual was a corkscrew for left-handers and a machine to remove frogs from the water barrels, inside the kitchen.

In the Renaissance, astronomically themed banquets were frequent. On 13 January 1490, they set up the first theatrical work, to our knowledge, with scenography by Leonardo da Vinci, at the Sforza Court.

The theatrical performance connected to the prestigious banquet begins at half-past midnight (the time was chosen as propitious by the Court Astronomer), at the end of the earthly embassies; after the drop of a first satin curtain, with a backlight and veiled figures, an angel came to announce the representation.

The theatrical performance connected to the prestigious banquet begins at half-past midnight (the time was chosen as propitious by the Court Astronomer), at the end of the earthly embassies; after the drop of a first satin curtain, with a backlight and veiled figures, an angel came to announce the representation.

Paradise was in the shape of a semi-egg, gold in the inside, with many lights representing the stars. Inside niches or slots, actors represented the seven planets, positioned according to their grade, dressed according to the classical tradition. They arranged twelve round glasses, decorated with the twelve signs of the zodiac, with candles on the inside, on the top of the egg. Gentle sounds and songs accompanied all this. 

Therefore, Renaissance cuisine stimulated not only flavours and smells but also above all human creativity. It brought the sky closer to cuisine through banquets and parties, involving a complete cross-section of the society of that time.

*Redattrici e redattori: Aurora Caruso, Marco Curradi, Giulia Del Rio, Filippo Di Stefano, Gabriele Galli, Elisabetta Guzzinati, Bianca Innocenti, Veronica Rocchini, Lorenzo Spiccia.

The team of the 4A Liceo Gobetti -Volta

The students who wrote the article At the heaven’s table attend the 4A of the Scientific high school Gobetti – Volta in Bagno a Ripoli. From the first year, they have been part of a project that has few other examples throughout the national territory. The course they attend has an astronomical “twist” which, in collaboration with the Institute of Astrophysics of Arcetri (Florence), helps them to deepen and acquire skills in one of the most fascinating areas of contemporary culture. The article intersects their humanistic skills with those more closely linked to the history of the sky. Through discussions with the Director of this magazine, focused on the Renaissance, they have developed an interesting field of study and analysis on food, convivial traditions, parties and celestial, astrological and astronomical symbolism.

The team of the 4th Liceo Gobetti -Volta: Aurora Caruso, Marco Curradi, Giulia Del Rio, Filippo Di Stefano, Gabriele Galli, Elisabetta Guzzinati, Bianca Innocenti, Veronica Rocchini. Lorenzo Spiccia.

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