Debate over food portions in Last Supper paintings

ARTnews reports on a debate concerning a study that was published earlier this year in the International Journal of Obesity. The study from Brian and Craig Wansink examined depictions of the food at the Last Supper in artwork dating back to the sixth century. Their conclusions: “the food portions became increasingly generous over time, with the main dish expanding by 69 percent, the bread portions by 23 percent, and the plates swelling in size by 66 percent.” The study hit the news wires in March; read reporting from the New York Times here.The implication in some of the news coverage was that food portions have increased over time, contributing to issues like obesity.

According to ARTnews, some art historians have taken issue with the study. Some of the issues listed in the article:

1. Is the Last Supper the best meal to examine?

2. Is the growing importance of still-life art over this time period more responsible for the growing size of plates?

3. Is there a growing amount of food because the cuisine of European cultures expanded over time?

4. Is this an appropriate methodology for measuring something like food portions?

An interesting study and an interesting debate over what it means.

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