Tableware in olden days

Dishes, in addition to their main function, began to play a decorative role over time, testifying to the status of their owner. Initially, they had a universal character, but as the ceremony associated with food and its setting was extended, they underwent a peculiar metamorphosis. First of all, the number of dishes increased significantly, as utensils of a specific form were already intended for particular dishes.
An appropriate selection of dishes for specific meals and beverages constituted a table service (for breakfast, dinner, tea, coffee, chocolate etc.), that is a set characterised by uniform decoration. Individual sets of tableware might belong to one whole set along with a dinner service, but most often, they were separate sets. Special development of richly decorated and elaborated table services was characteristic of the 18th century, when faience and porcelain products came into use, slowly replacing dishes made of clay and metal.
The dinner service was the most elaborate one in terms of quantity. It included soup vases, so-called terrines, vases for dishes with a semi-liquid consistency, oval platters for roasted food and round ones for vegetables. The whole set was complemented by salad bowls, sauce boats, spice containers, baskets for fruits and bread, and of course, deep and flat saucers. Sometimes, in tableware sets, one might find tubs for sluicing and cooling glasses and buckets for cooling wine.
Tea, coffee or chocolate services were characterised by a different selection of dishes. Each of them consisted of cups of various forms together with saucers (e.g. chocolate service – high binaural cups), various pots, jugs, sugar bowls, creamers, cans (e.g. tea cans) etc. These services might be intended for many people or constitute a set only for two, the so-called tête-à-tête, as well as services for one person, so called “solitary” (from French: solitaire).
A model example of a full tableware set consisting of all kinds of table services with the same decoration was the Meissen service of Aleksander Józef Sułkowski, created from the following services: dinner, coffee, chocolate, dessert (cylindrical cups for vermouth, plates, stemmed platters, small platters, cans for candied fruit, rectangular cauldrons, flat bowls) and a spice set (tafelaufplatz, plat de manage), table decorations (surtout de table) and candle holders.
This kind of tableware, apart from being very elaborate, also had a sculpturally shaped form and very rich pictorial decoration. In some cases, the form even outgrew its function, such as the spice set (plat de menage), which was often richly carved and a multi-storey structure. Out of it, a separate decoration of the centre of the table emerged  ̶  surtout de table, which served a decorative function. It consisted of porcelain figurines composed into groups against the background of various arrangements and constructions. However, it was a special table decoration, because the choice of figures was not accidental. The table decor was designed to convey some keynote during a lavish celebration. Only in exceptional cases was the surtout de table made to order as one large team with a specific iconographic programme. Porcelain figurines of this kind were manufactured in thematic series (see The monkey orchestra or national types, for example the Polish women and Polish men), which were bought and combined at choice, so as to illustrate the adopted content concept.
Tableware and figurines were kept in court cupboards. As it was written by Zygmunt Gloger in the Old Polish Encyclopaedia: “(...) the cupboard was usually arranged at the end of the dining room, behind the balusters like a cage, so that only the cup-bearer and those who helped them had access: the ones, who washed and wiped dishes. No one else was allowed to enter it. The servants received over the balusters whatever was needed and served it. In this chamber separated by balusters, there was one large table and sideboards or stairs up to the ceiling covered with silver, copper and faience. Only later did it become customary to place the cupboard in a separate room beside the dining room.” At the court, there was even a separate position of a cupbearer, who was responsible for the goods kept in the cupboard, that is, the silver and faience, and for setting them up on the table and preparing table decorations.

Elaborated by Paulina Kluz (Editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums), 
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This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland.






Elwira Bogusławska, Kultura materialna okolic Błaszek w XVIII wieku: [acces: 11.2019].
Kredencerz, Kredens, [w:] Zygmunt Gloger, Encyklopedja staropolska, Warszawa 1900: [acces: 11.2019].
Wanda Załęska, Rozwój form zastaw stołowych i porcelanowych dekoracji stołu w 1 połowie XVIII wieku (na wybranych przykładach), [w:] Zastawy stołowe XVI – XX. Materiały z sesji towarzyszącej wystawie „Splendor stołu” w Muzeum Sztuki Złotniczej, Kazimierz Dolny 26–27.10.2006, p. 23–36.