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Jehan Georges Vibert

French, 1840–1902

The Marvelous Sauce, ca. 1890

Oil on wood panel
25 x 32 inches (63.5 x 81.3 cm)
Bequest of Elisabeth H. Gates, 1899

Clerical themes were popular subjects in the late nineteenth century and scenes such as The Marvelous Sauce, centered in the kitchen, were common in the work of numerous artists. Everything about the scene—the large iron stove with elaborate hood and scrollwork, the numerous brass cooking pots, the abundance of food, the size of the room, and the patterned tile floor—reflects the wealth of the household, which belongs to the man on the right. He is a cardinal, a high-ranking official in the Catholic Church. The coat of arms on the side of the stove implies that he is also a member of a noble family.

A drama is unfolding in this impressive kitchen. The cardinal himself, wearing an apron over his official red robe, has presumably prepared the sauce in the pot he holds. His exuberant gesture and the look of delight on his face imply great pleasure with the creation. The chef, who also has sampled the sauce, is perhaps of a different opinion.

In spite of the humorous nature of this painting, Vibert was gently criticizing the clergy. The size of the cardinal and his enthusiasm for the sauce might imply that he spends more time in the kitchen and dining room than he does in church carrying out his religious obligations.

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