Saturday, December 23, 2017

European Holiday Traditions Part II: Le Menu

Roasted duck served on a festive platter.

As many of us are preparing for our guests’ arrival for the holiday, much time is spent in the kitchen! In France, families share a special meal honoring the beginning of Christmas day. “Le Réveillon de Noël,” or Christmas dinner. This feast is served late in the evening following, “La Messe de Minuit” (Midnight Mass) which is observed earlier in the evening by many parishes.

Opulent still life with gold and silver metalwork, nautilus shell, porcelain, victuals and other motifs on a draped table, ca. 1650 by Christiaen Luyckx

The dining experience begins with hot and cold hors d’oeuvres, often seafood, such as escargot, caviar, oysters, lobster, or sea scallops poached in white wine. Try this version of gratinéed sea scallops: Coquilles St. Jacques. For the main course the family might enjoy a traditional French dish of Duck à l’OrangeRoasted Christmas Goose with ChesnutsTruffled Turkey with Foie Gras, or Carp with Roasted Fennel. In the small Italian region of Umbria this dish is referred to as “Regina in Porcetta.” Each region has their popular favorites, though, in typical French spirit, this meal is not complete without champagne!

Moet & Chandon Champagne

The final course is made of thirteen different desserts. This tradition is mainly celebrated in the region of Provence to represent Christ and the twelve apostles. The selection of thirteen sweets may vary, though “les quatre mendiants,” representing the 4 monastic orders, are usually among them and sometimes served with nougat. The Dominicans are represented by Raisins, the Augustines by walnuts or hazelnuts, the Franciscans by dried figs, and the Carmelites by almonds. Dates or dried plums from Brignoles are served to symbolize the region of the Christ story origin. These four special ingredients frequently make it into a dessert all their own with chocolate called, Recettes de Mendiants, or in a galette (flat round cake or pastry).

Galette des rois aux 4 mendiants

Fruit desserts make a richly colored edible tapestry for the plate, and may contain melon, quince, white grapes, tangerines, or candied citron. Other desserts served are Pain d’épices (spiced gingerbread)and Calissons d’Aix (marzipan pastry).

Thirteen Desserts

Calissons d’Aix

Unlike the French, Christmas Eve dinner for Italians is light and meat is avoided, to “purify” the body before la Vigilia de Natale (Feast of the Seven Fishes). They indulge instead on an array of seafood dishes. This meal is observed before Midnight Mass. Following mass, in the Dolomites region of northern Italy, many thrill-seeking Italians put on their skis and head down the mountain at night with torch, or flashlight, in hand to ring in Christmas Day!

Feast of the Seven Fishes

There is much focus and festivity in the U.S. surrounding the Christmas Tree, rather than the age-old Yule Log. In much of Northern Europe and throughout France, a Yule log, often from a fruit tree, would be lit on Christmas Eve and burn through New Year’s Day. Burning the log was historically thought to bring luck to the family farm, or to protect against lightning. In some regions, as in Provence, it was a family affair to cut the tree used for the log. The remains of the log would be saved for the following year once the burning ceased after the Twelfth Night. A few traditions may be fading, as they may not be practical for many modern households. Yet France pays homage to older traditions with modern representations as in their delectable dessert, Bûche de Noël (Christmas Yule Log).

We recommend this recipe from Bon Appétit here.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our sampling of European Holiday recipes. Please feel free to share some of your own below!

From all of us at Jean-Marc Fray Antiques, we wish you and yours a Joyeux Noël.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

European Holiday Traditions: Part I

Murano Glass Tree, Italy

It is our decades long relationship with craftsmen in Murano, Italy and generations-old collectors in France which help us delight your eyes and interiors with collectible furniture, fine art, and hand-blown Murano glass lighting in our showroom and online gallery. This month we celebrate the traditions and customs of these culturally rich locales. We explore the events we have in common and those which are more diverse and region-specific. Let us journey to these majestic destinations while examining one’s own individual traditions important to each of our families and communities.

Lettres au Père Noël á Nice

In the US, children have a practice of penning their wishes to Santa Claus (derived from the Dutch: Sinter Klaas) in a letter sent to the North Pole. In France, there is legislation dating from 1962 stating that any letter to Père Noël (Father Christmas) must be responded to in the form of a postcard.

Crèche de Noël, Provence, France

Another common sight in America is the Nativity scene adorning the front of homes, squares, and religious structures. In France, this is known as “Crèche de Noël,” literally a manger or crib, and is displayed publicly with ceramic statues and hand-carved wooden figurines, called Santons. During the French Revolution, public “Crèche” scenes were forbidden based on the separation of church and state. In this period Santons became popular items for purchase at Christmas festivals and markets. The French have expanded upon the classic representations of Mary, Joseph, the Christ child, and the Magi to now include bakers, local dignitaries, and other regional figures. Italians also have capaciously enhanced this idea to include local personalities and elaborate backdrops. Crèche de Noël scenes represent the distinctive spirit within each community, which is perfectly in sync with the French motto: liberté, égalité, fraternité. Crèche will be kept on display until the second of February. On this day, known as “La Chandeleur,” crêpes are served while decorations are stowed away.

Exposition de Santons de Segurét, France


Il Presepe Napoletano


Il Presepe in Lecce, Puglia


In Italy and France, it is not uncommon to witness live Nativity scenes enacted publicly by actors in costume. A cave in the village of Greccio is where the manger depiction is said to originate. Local villager, Giovanni Vellita, was commissioned by St. Francis of Assisi to create the first Nativity scene in 1223. Inside the Cava d’Ispica in Sicily, Il Presepe is still portrayed today involving vibrant local processions in which town-folk participate. In the hills of Tuscany, the medieval walled city of Barga Vecchia has a living Nativity Scene followed by a parade of hundreds of locals that winds through town from Piazza Garibaldi to the Duomo.

The Christmas Crib of Greccio


Cavalcade of the Magi in Florence, Italy


Some traditions involve a bit of folklore with roots steeped in more ancient traditions. On January 5th, the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany, a crone named Befana visits children of Italy to fill their socks with treats if their behavior was satisfactory. They are given a stick or a lump of coal if their behavior was unsavory. As children might leave milk and cookies for Santa Claus in America, here the family offers a glass of wine and snacks for the good witch. There are stories incorporating La Befana into the Christian narrative in that she provided shelter to the biblical Magi, but some believe she is a remnant of the ancient Roman goddess of the New Year, Strenia.


In Austria, St. Nicholas is accompanied by a growling, dancing, beast-like, almost mythical, horned figure known as Krampus. He bestows gifts to the children and whips naughty children, pretending to toss them in his basket. Many people gather in squares on the eve of the Feast of St. Nicholas, as Krampus impersonators celebrate this unsettling Alpine tradition.

Austrian Postcard, ca.1910


Krampus in Innsbruck, Austria


In France, Père Foettard, also referred to as the Whipping Father, accompanies St. Nicholas on the saint’s day, December 6th, to impose a similar intimidating punishment for les vilains enfants. The roots of the lore surrounding Père dates back to the year 1150. Today, actors still depict him with a long beard donning a dark cloak. As sinister sounding as it might seem, these events incite reverie amongst adults and children alike, and are often performed in the town center as a symbolic mock celebration honoring traditions of the region. 

Le Père Fouettard


Following St. Nicholas’ Day in the Lyon region, a festival of lights, “Fête des lumières” is celebrated from December 7th through the 10th. On the exterior of the windows of each house a candle is placed in honor of the Virgin Mary. The festival dates back to the 17th century when Lyon was struck with the plague. Townspeople placed candles outside their windows in tribute to Mary in hopes they would be spared the plague. Modern-day festivities in Lyon include a spectacular light show held in the Place des Terreaux.

Lighting of the facade of City Hall- Lyon, France

Similar to the North American tradition of hanging stockings over the mantle, the French place their shoes by the fireplace or front door for Père Noël to fill with fruit, nuts, sweets and other goodies.

French shoe filled with Christmas candy.

Postcard of Père Noël, ca.1910

Beyond the tradition of carolling, French singer Jacques Dutronc made Père Noël the subject of a pop song, La fille de Père Noël, in the 1960’s.

What are the best loved holiday traditions in your home? We look forward to hearing the customs honored by your family in the comments below!

Check back in with Le Blog this weekend as we share delectable traditional recipes from France and Italy in time for your holiday menu in Part II!


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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Seguso Experience

For interior designers, architects, and collectors, the name Seguso is now synonymous with high-end, hand-made, luxurious glass creations. This role as one of the most prominent and largest manufacturers in Murano has only come after centuries of work by a family dedicated to producing innovative and sometimes eccentric pieces of art and lighting fixtures. Started in 1397, the Seguso family reached importance both locally and abroad. Seguso glass can now be found in over 74 museums worldwide, and has been procured by the elite royal families of the world.

Maestro Angelo Seguso at work, Seguso Portfolio
Vintage Seguso Vetri d’Arte Vases, Kocoma
Seguso Headquarters in Murano, Italy, Chrysler Museum of Art

With documentation tracing their uninterrupted glass-making lineage back to 1397, the family was added to the Libro d’Oro (Golden Book) of Murano in 1605, assigning them as a noble family of Venice. With international trade expanding as far as the Americas, Seguso glass was especially successful. From depictions in famous pieces of art to the minting of their family crest on the coin of Venice, this was an important era for the Seguso family and all glass making in Murano.

Christian Berentz Still Life Depicting Murano Glass (1679), Mutual Art
Venetian ‘Osella’ Coin, Seguso
Murano Avventurina Glass Chandelier from Seguso, Jean-Marc Fray Antiques

However, with the fall of the Venetian Republic came a low point for Murano and glass. Antonio Seguso, born in 1829, worked tirelessly to revive techniques that lead to the glass renaissance. The history of the Seguso family is intimately linked to the history of glass and the history of the island. Following Antonio Seguso, his descendants created new techniques and wonderful new pieces of art that were prized and desired worldwide. Maestro Archimede Seguso created the “sommerso” technique, leading to extensive new options for Murano glass. Between creating pieces for major museums, chandeliers for the pope, and receiving extensive international recognition, the Seguso family flourished in the 20th century.

1940’s Seguso Chandelier in a Milan Theater, Seguso Portfolio
Murano Glass lamps using Archimede Seguso’s ‘sommerso’ technique, Jean-Marc Fray Antiques
Seguso Bowl, Modern Museum of Art
On display at the Venice Biennale 1963, Seguso Portfolio

Today, the Seguso brand is run by three brothers: Gianluca, Pierpaolo, and Gianandrea. Together, they have continued to create fundamentally beautiful and important pieces of glass. In 2012, they opened the Seguso Experience, opening the doors of their factory and offering a unique and intimate look at the history behind the brand. It has consistently been rated one of the best experiences in Murano. Glass made under the Seguso name continues to draw a high value, as the quality is exquisite. Just one of the many glass factories in Murano, it is one of the most esteemed and established, continuing to influence the world of glass.

The Seguso Experience, Seguso
Murano Glass Sconces in the Seguso Manner, Jean-Marc Fray Antiques
300 Seguso Globes decorate the 2017 Venice International Film Festival, Where Venice
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Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Artful Gift Giving

It’s that time of year to keep an eye out for the perfect gift for everyone you hold dear (maybe even including yourself!). There is nothing more timeless or unique than an antique or vintage work of art– whether it’s a sculpture, a painting, or a handblown Murano glass accessory. The soul and sentimentality of these pieces is unmistakable, not to mention their beauty. We’ve gathered some of our favorite art available in our gallery right now, that are sure to be favorites this gift-giving season.

Framed pictures are always a thoughtful way to share special memories with your loved ones. Add an extra “wow” factor with one of our vintage handblown Murano glass frames attributed to Venini.


Give the gift of luck, wisdom, and strength in the form of an elephant. These beautiful creatures are always a favorite, and make a unique accessory.

Does someone you know need a new centerpiece or flower vase? Look no further, because the island of Murano has perfected the art of show-stopper bowls and vases. Just let the flowers know they might have some competition.


Sculptures make an excellent office, desk, or bookshelf accessory. We have a diverse range of materials and styles, from a vintage bronze panther to an antique bust of Beethoven.


You can’t go wrong with an original painting or photograph. Whether over the hearth, in the entry, or anywhere else, these special pieces are sure to bring joy each day.


Bring light into your loved ones’ lives with a pair of Murano glass lamps or sconces! These fixtures are works of art in their own right.


Art is a personal and shared experience, and it incites conversation and engagement between those around it. It is the gift that keeps on giving, and is sure to be the perfect expression of love and appreciation this holiday season. We at Jean-Marc Fray Antiques wish you all the joy this time of year brings!


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