Food culture and the Last Supper

I suppose this finding would fall into the “interesting but unsurprising” category, but I’m nevertheless overjoyed that historians of art, food, and culture do this kind of stuff.

Wansink teamed up with his brother Craig Wansink, a religious studies professor at Virginia Wesleyan College, to look at how portion sizes have changed over time by examining the food depicted in 52 of the most famous paintings of the scene from the Last Supper.

“As the most famously depicted dinner of all time, the Last Supper is ideally suited for review,” Craig Wansink said.

From the 52 paintings, which date between 1000 and 2000 A.D., the sizes of loaves of bread, main dishes and plates were calculated with the aid of a computer program that could scan the items and rotate them in a way that allowed them to be measured. To account for different proportions in paintings, the sizes of the food were compared to the sizes of the human heads in the paintings.

The researchers’ analysis showed that portion sizes of main courses (usually eel, lamb and pork) depicted in the paintings grew by 69 percent over time, while plate size grew by 66 percent and bread size grew by 23 percent.


from “Portion Sizes in ‘Last Supper’ Paintings Grew Over Time,” by Andrea Thompson, LiveScience, 23 March 2010 :: via kottke.org

Originally published at culture-making.com.

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