“Let the little things that would ordinarily bore you suddenly thrill you.”: The mancerina

Since first reading about the mancerina used in the early 17th century by Europeans for chocolate consumption, I have been enamored of the design and the various origin stories around this historical piece. My interest in this piece is echoed by Christine Jones, author of Shapely Bodies: The Image of Porcelain in Eighteenth-Century France. Jones shares that “small things, sometimes quite ordinary things were deemed remarkable for the unlikely composition of their bodies and how they had been molded, against all odds into such intriguing shapes” (Jones, ix – Acknowledgements).

The structure of the mancerina – usually a ceramic or porcelain (materials varied) saucer with a raised holder in the center to “sit” a cup – is simple, yet innovative. The illustrations only add to the beauty of the design. To me, the mancerina itself, is like an elegant lady, ready to come to life with skirts flared and dance the night away.

It is interesting then, that one of the “origin stories” behind this piece is around ladies indulging in chocolate. The story: the Marqués of Mancera, viceroy of Peru, while strengthening Spain’s military infrastructure within Peru, was also known for hosting tertulias, discussion parties with literary, artistic, or political overtones. It is hypothesized that at one of these events, he observed women of the aristocracy attempting to drink chocolate from regular cups and it spilling down their dresses (Coe and Coe, 135). He noted this challenge and later commissioned the first mancerina. Chocolate first made its appearance in the Spanish courts of Prince Philip in 1544. By the early 17th century, chocolate continued to be a decadent discovery, with access limited to a select few with the means and connections to indulge. In Mesoamerica, it was consumed from clay gourds or jicaras (cups); this did not meet Spanish sensibilities. The materials were common and there were concerns around spilling the beverage and burning one’s skin as well as being unable to drink properly when one was reclined. (Baird and Ionescu, 41-42). The Spanish also added sweeteners to their chocolate, such as sugar, further changing how it was consumed. The mancerina was considered a “New World design” for royalty and the aristocracy to elegantly consume this beverage, with minimal spillage. Moreover, the mancerina was another example of how chocolate was ‘adapted’ to be acceptable to European society.

Mancerina collage
Mancerina collage

The other “origin story” around the creation of the mancerina is based within the namesake himself; Pedro Álvarez de Toledo y Leiva, Marqués of Mancera and viceroy of Peru from 1639-1648. This story tells us that the Marqués suffered from palsy and that a rim was specifically built into his saucer in order to prevent him from spilling the beverage when he picked it up. (Gavin, Pierce and Pleguezuelo, 68).

This is interesting because of the correlation between innovation and health. For the people of Mesoamerica, cacao and chocolate had many healing properties and held a distinguished place for medicinal usage (Lippi, Chocolate in History). Without further information about the Marques, a definitive statement cannot be made that this was one of the reasons that he consumed chocolate. However, with the acknowledgement that some of these medicinal beliefs crossed the Atlantic back to the Spanish, one could infer that along with the prestige he gained from having access to this delicacy, the possibility of chocolate ameliorating some of the effects he suffered from the disease, also influenced his desire for a container to ease his consumption and limit waste.

Title page from Colmenero’s Curioso Tratado de la Naturaleza y Calidad del Chocolate
Title page from Colmenero’s Curioso Tratado de la Naturaleza y Calidad del Chocolate

Finally, shifting perspectives, I share an aside on the mancerina design and its implications on the erasure of Mesoamerican culture; an interesting view provided by Christine Jones in Shapely Bodies: The Image of Porcelain in Eighteenth-Century France. The book is a study of the cultural impacts of porcelain within French society and on French nationalism, though it acknowledges that some designs were adapted from other cultures (e.g. Spain, China) and explores these objects history and usage. Jones notes that:

“Hypotheses about the social purpose of the saucer – to sophisticate and stabilize gourd-style cups for fine ladies – historicize it quaintly, but the story of the mancerina calls out for a more culturally suspicious read. The lexicon of modesty around the new saucer situates it among the technologies brought to the New World to discipline native impropriety, from the corset to Christian baptism. Saved from the instability of Mesoamerican gourds and spared the need for better balance, ladies sipped the drink without fear of indelicacy. But the object of fear here is as much the liquid itself as concern about spilling it. Symbolically, the mancerina mitigated the impertinence of chocolate – a curiously invigorating pleasure deemed a heretical cure. Making native exoticism tame and safe might well sum up Spain’s colonial project, but the fear that inspired such imperial campaigns went beyond the borders of Spain and its Inquisition” (Jones, 125).

Her assertion is provocative, in the possibility that a third “origin story” could exist behind the creation of the mancerina and that this was another way in which Mesoamerican culture was deemed to be inferior, barbarian, and an opportunity for the Mesoamerican people to be saved and shown the path to “civilized humanity”. At least, that is my interpretation of this quote. What is yours?

Regardless of “how” or “why” the mancerina was created; it is noted as a historical artifact that not only highlights European gentrification of chocolate consumption, but also the status of chocolate – a delicacy so exotic that it deserved the creation of its own container to ease and accentuate one’s drinking experience.

References:

Baird, Ileana and Ionescu, Christina. Eighteenth-Century Thing Theory in a Global Context: From Consumerism to Celebrity Culture. Ashgate Publishing Company, Surrey. 2013. Print.

Coe, Sophie and Coe, Michael. The True History of Chocolate. Thames & Hudson, New York. 2013. Print.

Disney Songs. “Beauty and the Beast – Be our Guest.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 09 December 2008. Web. 20 February 2015.

Gavin, Robin Farwell, Pierce, Donna, and Pleguezuelo, Alfonso.  Cerámica Y Cultura: The Story of Spanish and Mexican Mayólica. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque. 2003. Print.

Jones, Christine. Shapely Bodies: The Image of Porcelain in Eighteenth-Century France. University of Delaware Press, Newark. 2013. Print.

Lippi, Donnatella. “Chocolate in History: Food, Medicine, Medi-Food” National Institute of Health, Journal – Nutrients (2013): n. pag. Web. 20 February 2015. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3708337/

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