Art doesn't necessarily imitate life

 - 
03/23/2010

OK. I think a new food/obesity study making the rounds today is trying to compare, well, apples to oranges.

Brian Wasnik, a Cornell University food behavior scientist, and a team of researchers, used a computer to compare the size of the food depicted in 52 paintings of The Last Supper, including Da Vinci's famous rendering.

The size of the main dish grew 69 percent; the size of the plate, 66 percent, and the bread, 23 percent, between the years 1000 and 2000.

"I think people assume that increased serving sizes, or 'portion distortion,' is a recent phenomenon," said Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab and author of "Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think." "But this research indicates that it's a general trend for at least the last millennium."

It's a painting. Paintings have as many meanings and interpretations as there are artists to paint them. Deconstructing a painting, as any art history student could tell you, is not about taking it literally and applying a modern context to it. In this case, I would wager  the large portions are meant simply to reflect bounty or abundance, not actual serving sizes. And yes, as people became more innovative, and wealthier, they had more food. Besides, who wants to look at a painting of the Last Supper and see bread and water (or, in this case, wine).

Still, I suppose it's a fun study, if not pure science. Here's an article for further reading, from the Los Angeles Times.

I just seriously hope a breakdown of body types a la Picasso isn't next.

Theresa Flaherty