Leonardo da Vinci and napkin folding

The history of serviette and napkin folding

Leonardo da Vinci and napkin folding

Postby jtbm71 » Wed Feb 08, 2012 7:32 pm

Searching information about napkin folding I found a book about Leonardo da Vinci and his cooking interests:
Leonardo's Kitchen Notebooks: Leonardo Da Vinci's Notes on Cookery and Table Etiquette, Its Spanish title is Notas de Cocina de Leonardo da Vinci, authored by Shelagh and Jonathan Routh, 1987, ISBN 0002171651, 9780002171656.
It tells about the kitchen side of Leonardo, based on a Codex Romanoff, includes recipes, table manners

In the Spanish edition on pages 50 and 51 it says: Some of Leonardo's designs for napkin folding. Other were more elaborated, folding napkins as birds, flowers and palaces. There is an image of Codex Atlanticus fol. 167 r. a-b

What do you think about this?

Good luck,
Jose Tomas Buitrago
Posts: 17
Joined: Wed Nov 30, 2011 1:54 pm

Re: Leonardo da Vinci and napkin folding

Postby Edwin Corrie » Fri Feb 10, 2012 8:57 am

Leonardo's book is mentioned here:

Note di Cucina di Leonardo Da Vinci
Un libro di cucina su questo sito? Non si tratta di un vero e proprio libro di cucina ed inoltre, questo libercolo, è molto particolare per diversi motivi. Uno perchè si tratta delle note di cucina scritte da Leonardo Da Vinci, due perchè si tratta delle note di cucina scritte da Leonardo Da Vinci, tre perchè si tratta delle note di cucina scritte da Leonardo Da Vinci...(non è un copia ed incolla errato, il mio). Lo sapevate che è stato Lui ad avere per primo l'idea di qualcosa di simile al tovagliolo o tovaglietta americana, a come piegare in modi diversi il primo...

I didn't know this before, but it seems Leonardo actually invented napkins, as well as various way to fold them. So was he the first napkin folder?
Edwin Corrie
Posts: 81
Joined: Tue Dec 06, 2011 11:40 am

Re: Leonardo da Vinci and napkin folding

Postby Joan Sallas » Fri Mar 09, 2012 8:54 pm

Thanks a lot to José Tomás Buitrago and Edwin Corrie for your comments about this dark subject.

Shelagh and Jonathan Routh's book „Leonardo's kitchen note books. Leonardo da Vinci's notes on cookery and table etiquette“ (London: Collins Publisher, 1987) was translated almost into italian („Note di cucina di Leonardo da Vinci“. Roma: Voland S. r. l., with five editions until 2005 and 2010) and spanish („Notas de cocina de Leonardo da Vinci: la afición desconocida de un genio“. Ediciones Temas de Hoy, S. A., editions in 1993, 1998, 2001, 2005 and 2007). In all the editions and translations is published the same mention and picture that José Tomás commented:

Some of Leonardo's designs for folding of table napkins. Others were more elaborate and the napkins were made in the shapes of birds, flowers and palaces. Cod. Atl. Fol. 167 r a-b

Jonathan Routh was a TV-actor, and later artist and writer. With help of his wife Shelagh Routh writed this book about the gastronomic notes of Leonardo from the Codex Romanoff. All the researchers - academics or amateurs - must be very carefull in their afirmations, specially wenn they publish subjectiv interpretations of the wittness or documents. Rouths' interpretation of the published image from the Codex Atlanticus (folio 167, r, a-b) as „designs for folding of table napkins“ is a non sense: the showed picture have absolutly nothing to do with napkin or with folding. The showed picture from the Codex Atlanticus is a document more of the so called „ludo geometrico“ (geometrical game) maked from the cercle with the compass, in which Leonardo offer us many samples as in the folios 124 r, 258 r, 476 r, 482 r, 616 v, 627 r, 654 r, 659 r, 696 v, amount many others samples from the Codex Atltlanticus. It's almost curious that the big majority of illustrations in Rouths book are from the Codex Atlanticus and any from the Codex Romanoff, in which are Leonardos gastronomic notes.

The only one Leonardo reference to folded napkins in Rouths book appairs in the capitel „On an Alternative to filthy Tablecloth“ where Leonardo explain that in the court of his patron, the ruler and later Duke of Milan Lord Lodovico Sforza, called „Il moro“, nobody used napkins, and the tablecloth remained extremly dirty. Leonardo thought that a solution could be to present a individual „tovaglietta“ (little tablecloth, not a napkin) in front of every guest, with the hope that they will clean their fingers and knife in it. After the banquet the Guests will fold discret (not artistic) this „tovaglietta“, to ocult the dirty parts. But as the florentiner Ambassador to Milan Pietro Alemanni inform (Roth font: Annali di Firenze Vol. XIV pp. 314-315) , nobody understand Leonardos idea and used the little tablecloth to sit on it, to blow their noses in it, to play throwing them or using to wrap the rest of the food.

In this context is very dificult to imagine that Leonardo invented raffined folded napkins. Of course Leonardo knew the folding art on the cloth and was in contact with cloth makers. He drawed many sketches to study the form of the folds on the cloth, and in his „Trattato della Pittura“ (published first in 1651 in Paris) writed interesting recomendations for his pupils about how to paint the folded parts. Myself I published in „Gefaltete Schönheit“ (Wien: selfpubl., 2010) a whole capitel about the calculated folding on the cloth arms of the Mona Lisa. Probably we will discover in the future more documents that reforced the idea that Leonardo knew the folding art. But until today don't exist a document that afirm he folded or invented folded napkins.

The napkin folding art was a process and not an invention that started in the north italian courts, probably in Florence at the begin of the 16th century. In this proces the folding tecniques were not invented to be used to fold the napkins, but „borrowed“ from the folding tecniques that used the cloth makers during the begin of the 16th century in the nord italian Renaissance. These cloth folding tecniques were extremly complicate, and for this reason were used first for the folded napkin centralpieces as symbolic table decoration. The artistic folding of napkins to clean the mouth appairs first in later documents, ca. 100 years after Leonardo.

Isn't the first time that is published something without fundament about Leonardo and the folding art. Edward Kallop published too a similar afirmation in “Plane Geometry and Fancy Figures. The Art and Technique of Paper Folding” (New York: The Cooper Union Museum for the Arts of Decoration, 1959, pag. 4):

In the Codex Atlanticus, that monument to the scientific mind of Leonardo da Vinci, are found a number of geometric exercises that clearly make use of folding as simple visual illustration, with one in particular a near duplicate to the typical folded paper aeroplane of today [8]. In some instances, the text contains the word "falcata," meaning 'bent' or 'folded,' and while there is no mention of material of any kind, it is not difficult to imagine Leonardo would have found paper a more tractable medium than cloth.”

[8] Leonardo da Vinci. II Codice Atlantico di Leonardo da Vinci nella Biblioteca Ambrosiana di Milano, Milan, 1894, vol. 4, fig. 318 r a. The text with the drawing speaks of "veloce," indicating a concern with speed and figures moving in space. Other illustrations of folded objects are figs. 231 Re, 240 v a, 246 r b, 272 v a, and 273 v b.

In his article “Old European Origami”, David Lister mentioned Kallops afirmation:

Leonardo is indeed quoted frequently as having been a "great paperfolder". He may have experimented with paper or paper-like materials during the course of his experiments. But where is the evidence? Perhaps the main reference is in Edward Kallop's introduction to the catalogue of the exhibition at the Cooper Union Museum in New York in 1959, "Plane Geometry and Fancy Figures". This was reprinted in Samuel Randlett's "Art of Origami" in 1961. Kallop states that a number of Leonardo's geometric exercises are found in the Codex Atlanticus and he says that one in particular is a near duplicate of the typical folded aeroplane of today. Kallop gives references in his notes at the end of his article. I have never been able to inspect the Codex Atlanticus or a facsimile copy, but Roberto Morassi has done so and in Roberto's opinion, none of Kallop's references relates to paper folding” (From: http://www.britishorigami.info/academic ... ldeuro.php)

The problem is that wenn somebody publish a nice but wrong historical afirmation, many people belive it, and so today we can read in many paperplanes books that the first paper plane was invented by Leonardo. The quotation of Leonardo that give us Edwin Corrie in http://www.cookino.net/sugg.php („Lo sapevate che è stato Lui ad avere per primo l'idea di qualcosa di simile al tovagliolo o tovaglietta americana, a come piegare in modi diversi il primo“) is a good sample of circulation of wrong ideas. It sounds very nice that Leonardo invented the first napkin folding, but sadly it isn't true.

We don't know the first napkin folder, but we know the first document with mention about artistical folded napkins, writed 1513 by Paolo Palliolo about the banquet of Giuliano and Lorenzo di Medici in Campidoglio (Rome) as they were honored as citizens of Rome. This report remained as manuscript and was published first 1885 (Palliolo, Paolo / Guerrini, Olindo: "Le feste pel conferimento del patriziato romano a Giuliano [di Lorenzo] e Lorenzo [di Piero] de' Medici [in Campidoglio] narrato die Paolo Palliolo, fanese". Bologna: Gaetano Romagnoli, 1885). In the pages 75-76 we can read:

“[...] Tornando al Mag. Jul. et suoi convivi, quali lassamo a tavola dico che ciascuno havea denante il tovagliuolo di renso sottilissimo, ingegnosamente piegato, per modo che dentro rimaneva il vacuo dove erano augelletti vivi de più sorta. Sopra il tovagliuoli erano ficcate bandiruole con arme di Nostro Signore et del Populo Romano. Prima alle mani fu data acqua odoratissima; de poi, dispiegando detti tovagliuoli, uscivano fuora gli augelletti tra quali ne erano alcuni avezzi fra le persone et domesticamente stare per casa. Questi non se partivano dalla tavola, ma, saltando per essa, givano pascendose di quello che ci trovavano, con gran piacere de tutti. Altri volavano per el Theatro fra la moltitudine et davano giuoco al populo. Ma questo non saziava la brigata.[...]”

In my book „Gefaltete Schönheit“ I mentioned Christoforo di Messisbugo Banchetti Composizioni Di Vivande E Apparecchio Generale” (Ferrara: De Buglhat, Hucher, 1549) as the oldest wittnes about napkin folding. 2010 I don't knew Palliolos document. In the next edition, I will introduce this new information with some comments. It looks that it was a normal to put inside of folded napkins live birds or other animals, to give a surprise to the guests. This folded napkins were used as a kind of centralpieces (german: "Schaugerichte", italian: "trionfi") and of course not to clean the mouth (!). We have no description how this napkins were folded, but with the comments of Vincenzo Cervio in "Il trinciante" (1593) and the pictures of Matthias Giegher in "Li tre trattati" (1629), we can aventure a possible interpretation.

Tamsyn commented too in this forum that the excellent napkin folder of the royal english court Luigi Spotorno, mentioned in his nice napkin folding book “Luigi’s Language of Napkin Folding” (Liverpool: Capsica, 2006) that the napkin history is 600 years old. Certainly, the origin of the napkin on the table is almost ca. 100 years earlier than the art of napkin folding. The reason don't remain by Leonardo: the changement of the cloth mode from the “quatrocento” to the “cinquecento” taked biger clothes, and had as consequence that the napkins were biger too to protect this clothes. The folding was a practical, social and artistic solution.

Frequently are in napkin folding books fanstasious afirmations about the origin of napkin folding without give a reference, document or wittnes of it, but if we want remain serious in our folding research, we must separe the real history from some nice histories published in no academic or pseudo-academics publications.

joan sallas
Joan Sallas
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Re: Leonardo da Vinci and napkin folding

Postby Edwin Corrie » Mon Mar 12, 2012 1:54 pm

I also found an article called "La bella tavola italiana e Leonardo Da Vinci inventore del tovagliolo" which finishes with this:

Il problema dei tovaglioli interessò tanto Leonardo, che egli preparò anche una lunga serie di schemi su come piegarli, con la possibilità di creare forme che ricordano uccelli, fiori o palazzi.

Translation: "Leonardo was so interested in the problem of napkins that he even drew up a long series of instructions [?] on how to fold them and the possibility of creating forms resembling birds, flowers and buildings."

But the author doesn't say where these instructions are to be found. Looking at the information Joan has provided (and also David Lister in the article mentioned) it would seem that over the years people have confused the invention of the napkin with the idea of napkin folding, and gradually it has become accepted even though there is no actual evidence.

I think there is also a distinction to be made between the folding of napkins (tovagliolo, Serviette, Mundtuch) and the folding of tablecloths (tovaglia, Tischtuch, Tafeltuch). But probably I need to read Joan's "Gefaltete Schönheit" properly first, as a lot of these things have already been researched by him.
Edwin Corrie
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Joined: Tue Dec 06, 2011 11:40 am

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