Mattia Giegher "Li tre trattati"

The history of serviette and napkin folding

Mattia Giegher "Li tre trattati"

Postby Joan Sallas » Tue Jul 24, 2012 10:12 am

revised the 14th February 2014

Mattia Giegher (mostly) or Matthia Giegher is the italian name of the German Matthias Jäger, who was born in Moosburg, Bavaria, ca. 1589, and died before 1639, probably in Italy. Jäger needed to rewrite his own name as Giegher, to permit the italian people speak it correctly, as near as possible to the german fonetic. This kind of fonetic transcriptions were usual at the time, and are today necessary to write some words or authors names in our language, original writed in other alphabets. In the Bibliography is to find as Giegher, not as Jäger, but his name sometimes appears in the literature incorrectly written as 'Geiger', perhaps because some people think that it means Fiddler in old German, and curiously they rewrote it in modern German.

Giegher published in the frontispiece of his last book the coat of arms (three hunting horns) of his noble family Jäger ('Hunter'). I looked for some Gieghers witness in Moosburg, and I founded the same coat of arms with three hunting horns in the funeral stone of a bishop in the Johanniskirche, an oldest church from the 15th century in the city center of Moosburg (see also the picture under this comment). So, I think the name Giegher really means the German name Jäger.

Hunting Horns in Moosburg.jpg
Hunting Horns in Moosburg.jpg (150.92 KiB) Viewed 13021 times

We have only a few informations on Gieghers life, mostly from his own books. Like so many people north of the Alps, magnetized by the italian Renaissance, the young Giegher (he was ca. 22 years old) moved ca. 1616 to this country, short before the Thirty Years' War. In Italy he learned food carving, table servering and napkin folding, and later taught this matters at the University of Padova. During this time, he collected his carving experience in the book „Il trinciante“ (Padova: Martini, 1621), his servering experience in the book „Lo scalco“ (Padova: Crivellari, 1623), and his folding experience in the book „Li Tre trattati“, published in first edition 1629 in Padova by Guareschi (a second edition was published in Padova by Frambotto in 1639). As the Italian title says, „Li tre trattati“ contents three treatises: „Lo scalco“ and „Il trinciante“ published before, and the new „Trattato delle piegature“ ('treatise of folding').

The book is dedicated to Burcardo Ranzovio (again an Italian name that refers probably to Burkhardt Rantzau) from Sasdorf (probably today Sassendorf, Bavaria), at the time councilor of the German nation in the University of Padova. In this time of religious reform, the political, social, cultural and commercial relationship between catholic Bavarians and Italians was very intensive, and both participated frequently by banquets as guests. So, the Italian arts of carving, servering and folding were for Bavarian people really not unknown.

During the 16th century many important italian carvers as Cristoforo di Messisbugo, Domenico Romoli, Bartolomeo Scappi, Giovanni Battista Rossetti, Vincenzo Cervio or Cesare Evitascandalo mentioned in their books the use of folded napkins in many interesting aspects, but Giegher was the first that tried to make a written and graphic description of this folding art. Many authors in the 17th century and 18th that included in their books the art of folding napkins, took Gieghers Work as their primary source.

To understand the folding treatise of the book „Li tre trattati“, we need to observe four important concepts:

First, it isn't a book to learn to fold napkins to clean the mouth as we know today, but to learn to decorate the table with objects elaborated with folded napkins, called today folded centerpieces (in old Italian 'trionfi da tavola', in old German 'Schaugerichten'), today absolutly forgotten. The centerpieces elaborated with folded napkins started in the Renaissance courts in North Italy at the beginning of the 16th century, under the big influence of the Italian renaissance dressmaker and her complex folding techniques. After that, the mouth napkins were folded too, but they are first documented 1652 by G. Ph. Harsdörffer in Germany. The last book to learn about centerpieces with folded napkins (that I know) was published in Germany by Friedrich Kaspar Funke: "Leichtfaßlicher Unterricht in der Kunst: Die Servietten bei Gastmahlen auf eine geschmackvolle und sehr zierliche Weise zu Teller-Aufsätzen zu brechen. Für Kellner, Köche, Köchinnen, und überhaupt jede grössere Haushaltung" (Erfurt: Friedrich Bartholomäus, [1845]).

Second, it isn't a book to learn how to fold models through folding instructions, but to learn a folding culture and exercise folding techniques, through which people created their own new models. The models are not showed in the book to be folded, but to show what you can make, if you can the folding thechniques. The modells are presented as subjects, not as objects to fold. In these times folders didn't repeat the same model thousand times as today, but his obsesion was to make exercises to learn to fold well. The models were folded only one time for a banquett, and nobody expected folding instructions to reapeat it (the first book with folding instructions of a napkin -and as well as I know, paper too- appears in the dutch anonyme book "Aanhangzel, van de volmaakte hollandsche Keuken-Meid". (Amsterdam: Steven van Esveldt, 1746).

Third, Giegher, as well as all the folding teachers of his time, taught in the University of Padova with paper, because paper was better than fabric to learn the napkin folding art. After the correction of the mistakes, paper remains hard enough, and when the pupils control the techniques, they can use starched napkins to fold. That ist the reason why in West Europe the folded napkins have frequently the same bases, techniques, and folding sequences as paper folded objects (for example: troublewit). So napkin folding must be considered as a part of the folding art, together with paper folding and other folded materials. The folding art is one, independent of which material we fold. The most relevant characteristic of this art is the fold element.

Fourth, besides the use on the table, the folding technique and the folded material, the napkin objects had not only a decorative goal, but rather a symbolic purpose (in old German called Sinnbilder), according to one or another banquet, event, invited guest or amphitryon. The guests must identify the presented symbolic, think about it and comment it with the other guests. In this perspective, the folded centerpieces have a social and communicative goal too. At the University the waiters received a cultural education about topics like .. heraldry, mythology, etc. too, to be able to decide in commission which subjects they will fold. The most important thing was the decision "what will we fold".

In the text, relationed to the folded centerpieces in the pictures, Giegher mentioned following several subjects to fold (a rabbit (italian: coniglio) is not mentioned in the text, but appears in the pictures. Perhaps as a joke, La fenice is mentioned in the text, but doesn't appears as picture): le touaglie / saluiette sopra’l pane / organi / gigli / monti / ventaglio in due maniere / gli SS. / la corona doppia / li cappami / li dodici monti / li quadrangoli / le colline / la Naue / li copertoj da coprir le panatiere per signori grandi, e le trinciere / la mitra / il gallo d’India / li draghi / le rose, e’l rosmarino con la croce di Malta / li pesci / la corona del papa / L’Aquila / Il cane / Il Lione / Il castor / La testuggine o tartaruca / Vn’orso / Il pellicano / La salamandra […] con la corona in testa / La fenice / Il granciporo, e granchio di mare / Li pippioni / l’vccello in sù la torre / Il gallo in sù la gallina / Il paone / vna gallina co’ suoi pulcini / vn fagiano doppio / San Marco / Il delfino.

In the text are mentioned other subjects, too, elaborated with wax, pasta or folded napkins, without explanation which are maked with one material or other. As the combination of suggar statues and folded napkins at the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th centuries shows, many of these subjects were probably elaborated with different materials in the same object. Here the mentioned subjects: piramidi / castelli / pagoni / aquile / igni / struzzoli / leoni / cerui / dragoni / vn Satiro / vn Marte / Vn’Ercole, che sbrana la bocca al lione / Vn’Europa sul toro con le mani alla corna / Vn’Elena Troiana adornata di veste, e capelli d’oro / Vna Venere ignuda / Vna Pallade ignuda / Vna Giunone ignuda

Each of these mentioned subjects -not objects!- to fold (and its mention in the text) need an extensive and deep technical, symbolic, gastronomic, textil and too historic philological analysis and interpretation, before we understand what we fold and how we started to fold them. The cooperation of different experts is absolutely necessary to make a complete research of this more than valuable treatise about the folding art.

Carving books were not in the old privat libraries together with the other literature books, because they were practical books to be used. That's the reason because only a few of this books samples are today conserved. In libraries and archives are present some original samples of Gieghers second edition of "Li tre trattati", but only a few of them conserve the first edition 1629. As well as I know: two in Germany, one in Switzerland, and two in England (The British Library and Bodleian Library Oxford). Here are some links:

Herzog August Bibliothek Wolfenbüttel (Germany) ... SHW?FRST=2

University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt (Germany) ... &Query=10="BV023065262"

University of Basel (Switzerland) ... format=999

2009 I checked an exceptional sample of the 1629 first edition in a New Yorker old book shop. The folding part contained the same seven plates with pictures as the 1639 edition (only without plate numeration), but without text pages. The plate on page 55 remained with the same text as the 2nd edition. Some titles of the tables on the carving part were not printed in this sample, but hand written with the calligraphic caracters typish of the 17th century. It looked also that this unfinished sample was really Gieghers own sample to prepare the definitive first edition. This New Yorker sample was sold in a unknown privat (probably gastronomic) collection for only 40.000 €, a quantity that in that moment sadly I didn't have in my pocket.

Gieghers carving treatise "Il trinciante" (Padova: by Martini, 1621) was also translated into German in the former Prussia, today Poland and Russia (Danzig and Königsberg: by Peter Händel, 1639). A second edition was published 1642 by three diferent german publishers (Hamburg: by Hinrich Werner; Nürnberg: by Paul Fürst; Leipzig: by Johann Leipnitz). A translation of the treatise "Lo Scalco" isn't known for me.

Gieghers „Il trinciante“ was published again in german language together with other etiquett matters by Georg Greflinger (ca. 1620-1677) in 1648 and 1650 (both published in Rinteln by Petro Lucio), and by Georg Philipp Harsdörffer (1607-1658) in 1649, 1652, 1654, 1657 and 1665 (all published in Nürnberg by Paulus Fürst). The 1650 edition of Greflinger as well as all Harsdörffers editions content the translated text and the redrawn pictures of Gieghers folding treatise. Since the 1652 edition, Harsdörffer enlarged this subject with several new folded napkins for the mouth (12 models) and folded centerpieces (24 models) presented at the end of the book. Since the 1657 edition, the enlarged part appairs directly after Gieghers translation, at the begin of the book. All the matters in Harsdörffer editions are very revised and enlarged, but the folding part remain since 1652 without changements.

The 1649 edition of Harsdörffer carving book appeared undated (and without author mention), is in the bibliographies frequently dated 1641. It was re-dated 1649 by Prof. Dr. Werner Wilhelm Schnabel from the Friedrich-Alexander-University of Erlangen-Nürnberg (Germany) in his article "Vorschneidekunst und Tafelfreuden" (Gerstl, Doris (ed.): Georg Philipp Harsdörffer und die Künste. Nürnberg: Hans Carl Verlag, 2005). I agree it as possibility, because this Harsdörffer edition was published probably after the great Peace Banket of 1649 and must be before Greflinger 1650 edition.

The translation of Gieghers folding part in "Li tre trattati" into German was definitely not an easy work, because not all Italian folding words existed at this time in the German language. So, it was needed to create some new German words to make the translation.

There's no facsimile edition of the first edition of Giegher's "Li tre trattati" (1629). The only one is the facsimile of the second edition (1639), published sadly in a low graphic quality by Arnaldo Forni Editore (Bologna: 1989, ISBN 9788827127674). The editor apologized that the bad quality was caused by the bad original, but he gives no mention about which original he took to reproduce it. Many books about table culture show some pictures of Gieghers work. In my own book „Gefaltete Schönheit“ (Freiburg/Wien: selfpubl., 2010) are reproduced all the plates referent to Gieghers folding treatise from der 2nd edition, which original is in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, München (Germany).

Joan Sallas
Weimar, Germany
Joan Sallas
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Location: Leuna, Germany

Re: Mattia Giegher "Li tre trattati"

Postby Laura Rozenberg » Fri Jul 04, 2014 12:27 pm

Thank you Joan for sharing your incredible amount of research work. You mention that Giegher taught at University of Padova. Is there a reference in the book about that or how did you find out? I'm just curious. And if you have more information about his "course" at the University (or similar courses by other professors of that time) it would be wonderful to know. Many thanks.
Laura Rozenberg
Posts: 23
Joined: Tue Dec 13, 2011 1:58 pm

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