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Ragueneau's Bakery

Updated: Apr 7, 2023

The Patisserie by Abraham Boss, (1602-1676) from the Bibliothèque municipale de Lyon

The Patisserie by Abraham Boss, (1602-1676) from the Bibliothèque municipale de Lyon

The Bakery by Gerrit Adriaenszoon Berckheyde (1638 – 1698).

The Bakery by Gerrit Adriaenszoon Berckheyde (1638 – 1698).

The second act of the play Cyrano de Bergerac begins in the shop of Ragueneau, baker, cook and patron of poets. Edmund Rostand includes this picturesque description of the set in his stage directions.

"To the left, in the foreground, is a counter, and above it a wrought iron shelf with hanging geese, ducks, and white peacocks. Great blue and white crocks abound, filled with large bouquets of sunflowers and other wildflowers. On the same side, in the background, is a huge fireplace, in which a set of andirons supports a spit and several small cooking pots. Roasting birds weep juices into the drip pans below.

To the right, in the foreground, is a door. In the background, a stairway rises to a little closet. Within the open shutters one can see a small private dining room with a finely set table and a thin taper lit and shining. A wooden gallery proceeds from the top of the stair, appearing to lead to other similar rooms. In the middle of the cafe is an iron ring on a rope and pulley from which large cuts of meats and game are hung. In the darkness under the stairs, the ovens spark and smolder. Gleaming copper pans hang from the walls. Heaps of delicious pastries adorn the tables. Hams hang from the rafters."

As is typical of Rostand's exquisitely researched writing, the details could have come directly out a 17th century painting.

To illustrate what the set might look like we have an etching of "The Patisserie" by Abraham Boss, (1602-1676) from the Bibliothèque municipale de Lyon which shows the glowing ovens, hanging meats, vases full of sunflowers and delicious confections of Rostand's description.

We also have a wonderful painting of children in a bakery by Gerrit Adriaenszoon Berckheyde (1638 – 1698). I particularly love this painting because of the evocative shape of the large flatbread in a place of honor on the counter. It reminds me so much of this moment:

RAGUENEAU (dazzled): Ah! What’s this? A lyre!

FIRST APPRENTICE: Made from sweet bread.

RAGUENEAU (moved): Bejeweled with candied fruit!

FIRST APPRENTICE: And strung with sugar strings.

RAGUENEAU (giving him some money): Well done, my friend! Let me buy you a drink. (giving him coins) (seeing Lise enter): Oh no! My wife! Go on, and hide those coins!

Look here, my Lise! Isn’t it beautiful?

LISE: Ridiculous!

I've seen similar lyre shaped bread in the works of other Dutch painters, and I can't help wondering if Rostand did as well. Can you imagine practical, impatient Lise as the woman behind the counter in this painting?

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