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Fork: The fork first arrived in Italy from Byzantium in the eleventh century and was in regular use there by the fifteenth century. It was a while before the fork was accepted elsewhere in Europe. In 1518, Martin Luther amusingly quipped, ‘God preserve me from the little forks’! It finally came into common use in the seventeenth century, where it developed from the two-pronged type to one of three or four prongs, demonstrating its transition from carving or serving fork to one used for eating.

Knife and fork

Gold, silver-gilt, steel and enamel

Origin: France, probably Paris or Blois

Date: Second quarter 17th century, the tines probably later

15.4 cm length of knife; 12.7 cm length of fork

Marks/Maker: The knife blade: unidentified cutler's mark, O and I in monogram

Bequeathed by J. Francis Mallett, 1947; WA1947.191.271

T. Schroder (2009), no. 552

This knife and fork were probably part of a cased set, perhaps including a spoon. The handles of these pieces demonstrate an important development in painted enamels - the invention of an even whiter ground to which a broader range of colours could be applied. This decoration is usually associated with celebrated enamelworker, Jean Toutin (1578-1644).

Information derived from T. Schroder, British and Continental Gold and Silver in the Ashmolean (2009)