The Baroque era was a time of exuberant, twisting, turning, exploding artistic expression (Januszczak, 2009). The style of the Renaissance was released and left with no bounds, free to explore on its own. The new, exciting, intriguing concoction from the New World, chocolate, seemed to find its home in this new environment of Europe. Like perhaps most anything else in history, it was not without its controversies or queries as to proper use. Yet, chocolate managed to weave its way into the very fabric of European society – starting at the top, and in due course working its way down (Coe and Coe, 2013). Just as the art was not meant to be enjoyed passively, but rather actively sought out and engaged the viewer, chocolate seemed to flow across Europe and cover all of society. The Baroque made it possible.
It could be easily said that although the Baroque was a decadent time, it was not one of hedonism, for there were indeed still rules. The decadent nature of the era masks its origins as the artistic wing of the counter-reformation. One could be forgiven for thinking at first sight that it is counter-intuitive for the Catholic faith to promote something that seems to be an even stronger example of those “decadent excesses” that the Protestant movement accused them of doing. Yet, there was a method in the madness. More so than in Renaissance art, the lives, struggles, thoughts, emotions, and realities of everyday people took centre stage in much of Baroque art. Even the most high of society, and even religious figures were often depicted with a stark, humanistic realism that created a connection with the viewer (Januszczak, 2009). Since the Baroque was designed to showcase the glories of the Catholic faith to the people and encourage them thereby not to convert to Protestantism, it is not surprising, then, that the various art forms of the Baroque sought to engage the people of all levels of society (Januszczak, 2009). Perhaps that focus on everyday people, coupled with a focus on the humanity of the upper classes, helped to diffuse chocolate through all ranks of society – and in a more persistent way than without the Baroque.
Chocolate was introduced to Europe by Spain. It is no surprise that the Catholic religious orders from that most Catholic of monarchies played a major role in diffusing chocolate through Europe (Massot-Cladera, Pérez-Cano, Llorach, & Urpi-Sarda, 2017). It would appear impossible not to associate chocolate with Catholicism and the counter-reformation, though like the Baroque itself, chocolate still managed to find itself welcome and adopted in Protestant lands (Januszczak, 2009; Coe and Coe, 2013).
Given the role of Catholic religious orders in disseminating chocolate to Europe, it is no surprise that chocolate and the Catholic church itself became intertwined. The Italian peninsula, the venerable birthplace of both the Renaissance and the Baroque, took to chocolate enthusiastically. The many sovereign nations that comprised Italy at the time adopted chocolate through various means, particularly as culture and customs spread from state to state by marriages, alliances, and commerce (Coe and Coe, 2013). Tuscany, for example, was ruled by the Medici, a family that comprised not only innovative and enthusiastic consumers of chocolate, but also produced several popes, including Leo X,. Leo was arguably the first Baroque Pope, for he launched the main opposition to Protestantism with the excommunication of Martin Luther (Coe and Coe, 2013). Later, Tuscany was ruled by the Catholic Austrian Habsburgs, among others.
Given the Baroque’s birth as a weapon and expression of the counter-reformation, perhaps the staunchly Catholic states, including those in Italy, saw consumption of chocolate as an overt statement, albeit a cultural one, of the Catholic faith. Indeed, perhaps they even saw it as their religious duty (and certainly not all duties need be onerous). Perhaps, therefore, it could even be said that chocolate was an early “soul food?”
In the beginning, chocolate was consumed in a broad sense in the same way that it was consumed among indigenous populations of the New World, i.e., as a beverage. One key difference is that the Europeans often added sugar as a sweetener in addition to honey, the latter being common in both Europe and the New World (Coe and Coe, 2013). Tastes differed then as they always seem to have done, and some preferred thicker chocolate, and others preferred thin, perhaps foreshadowing the modern choice of milkshake thickness (Massot-Cladera, Pérez-Cano, Llorach, & Urpi-Sarda, 2017).
Though tastes differ, what is fashionable and in taste is often defined and determined by those in power or positions of influence. It was no different with chocolate. That Their Most Catholic Majesties in Spain developed a liking for the product of their new territories played a definite role in the popularity of chocolate in the Spanish court and elsewhere. One must often be induced to try something new, and popular, powerful people often help in that (Lindorfer, 2009). King Philip IV of Spain (House of Habsburg), for example, had chocolate as part of his morning routine – and he was indeed a creature of habit (Hume, 1907). The fashion of the sovereign in due course becomes the fashion of the nobility, which in turn is often adopted in one form or another by the middle classes and eventually reaches the lower classes, even if it has morphed a bit by that point (Coe and Coe, 2013).
Along with this exciting new decadence came a new set of tableware intended to be used for its serving and consumption – an unsurprising outcome, given that its use primarily began with the royal household and aristocracy. The chocolate grinder was one such product that was really a necessity. A glazed and decorated ceramic container known as an jicara was used as the vessel from which the chocolate was imbibed. Keeping with the ceremony of the era, chocolate even gained its own special serving tray known as the mancerina, which took its name from the Spanish aristocrat who made it popular, the Marqués de Mancera, Viceroy of Peru (Massot-Cladera, Pérez-Cano, Llorach, & Urpi-Sarda, 2017). Indeed, chocolate developed a cultural importance and life all of its own. Fig. 1 is a painting entitled “Chocolate Girl” around 1744 by Jean-Étienne Liotard. Among other roles, he was a painter to the Imperial family, and he completed several paintings of chocolate service and consumption themes.
Chocolate was also believed to have medicinal qualities and was even exempted from Friday and Lenten fast/abstinence requirements (Coe and Coe, 2013). As Fig. 2 shows, it was believed that chocolate not only was a tasty treat, but also could cure a surprisingly vast array of diseases, maladies, and ailments. However, the death of composer Henry Purcell was blamed on “chocolate poisoning,” a mystery that was memorialised in a dramatic work entitled “Henry Purcell: Death by Chocolate.” (See this link for an upcoming performance in Winnipeg.)
Chocolate and the Baroque seemed like a match made in heaven. Chocolate found in the exuberance of that era a happy home. Without the religious zeal, which started at that age of decadence, chocolate may not have gotten as strong a foothold among the European population. It is, of course, admittedly speculative, but nonetheless logical. As the Catholic nations of Europe spread their faith to the New World, they were likewise influenced by that New World delicacy, chocolate. In time, chocolate conquered the hearts and minds of Europe, and more effectively, perhaps, than the European powers conquered the colonies. It is a legacy that is not without its ups and downs over time. As the Baroque waned, so too did that most Baroque of substances, chocolate, suffer a decline (Squicciarini and Swinnen, 2016). Yet, chocolate proved resilient and showed permanence even to the present day.
Coe, S.D. and Coe, M.D. (2013). The True History of Chocolate.New York, New York: Thames & Hudson Ltd., London.
|Colmenero de Ledesma, A. (1640). A Curious Treatise OF The Nature and Quality of Chocolate. London: J. Oakes.|
Hume, M. (1907). The Court of Philip IV. Spain in Decadence. London: Eveleigh Nash.
Lindorfer, B. M. (2009). Discovering taste: Spain, Austria, and the spread of chocolate consumption among the Austrian aristocracy, 1650–1700. Food and History, 7(1).
Massot-Cladera, M., Pérez-Cano, F., Llorach, R., & Urpi-Sarda, M. (2017). “Cocoa and Chocolate: Science and Gastronomy”-The Second Annual Workshop of the Research Institute on Nutrition and Food Security (INSA): 9 November 2016. Nutrients, 9(2), 156. doi:10.3390/nu9020156
Squicciarini, M.P. and Swinnen, J. The Economics of Chocolate. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Januszczak, W. (2009). Baroque! From St Peter’s to St Paul’s. London: BBC.