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Just Desserts: An Eighteenth-Century Table Setting

November 23, 1999–June 18, 2000

Of the many courses that comprised a formal dinner in eighteenth-century Europe, none was more important than the dessert course. A formal meal of the time was considered a kind of theatrical performance and dessert, the final act, was the most elaborate and expensive course. Arrangement of the dessert’s centerpiece was often patterned after designs like those illustrated by the famous French confectioner Joseph Gilliers in his 1751 Le Cannameliste français. Just Desserts: An Eighteenth-Century Table Setting is based on one such design.

Unglazed porcelain figures like those featured in Just Desserts are the descendants of sculptures made of sugar, a type of table decoration that can be traced back to twelfth-century North Africa. Around 1751, the French Vincennes/Sèvres porcelain factory began producing figures in white unglazed porcelain, known as biscuit. The biscuit figures, which resembled sugar sculpture in color and texture but were more durable, became standard components of the dinner services produced at the Sèvres factory. The centerpiece in the museum’s installation will include figures made at Sèvres. Also featured in the centerpiece will be a sugar sculpture in the form of a fountain, produced by food historian Ivan Day using eighteenth-century recipes.

Main Building


Donna Corbin, Assistant Curator of European Decorative Arts

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