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Arts and Culture

‘Portion Distortion’ Creeps Into Last Supper Paintings

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Posted on Mar 25, 2010
Last Supper
Wikimedia Commons / The Yorck Project

The bread of life, and then some: Portion sizes are clearly still far from the all-you-can-eat side of the spectrum in this 16th century painting by Juan de Juanes.

Imagining and depicting Jesus’ final meal with his apostles has been an artistic obsession since the dawning of the Common Era, and thus it’s only fitting that the holy vittles on their plates might reflect the attitude about food prevalent in the cultures that produced the artists.

The order of the day for more recent images would, not surprisingly, be “supersize me,” according to an academic study that surveyed images of the Last Supper created over several centuries.  —KA

Los Angeles Times:

Using the size of the diners’ heads as a basis for comparison, the Wansinks used computers to compare the sizes of the plates in front of the apostles, the food servings on those plates and the bread on the table. Assuming that heads did not increase in size during the second millennium after the birth of Christ, the researchers used this method to gauge how much serving sizes increased.

And increase they did.

Over the course of the millennium, the Wansinks found that the entrees depicted on the plates laid before Jesus’ followers grew by about 70%, and the bread by 23%.

As entree portions rose, so too did the size of the plates—by 65.6%.

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By Tobysgirl, March 30, 2010 at 12:16 pm Link to this comment

Gerard, when my grandfather—evangelized and saved by Billy Sunday—said grace before the meal, I asked my mother, “Why is Grandpa talking to his plate?”

Sometimes one wishes people could just learn to be grateful for their food and enjoy it, learning to appreciate the difference between plastic meals and truly well-prepared food. But gratitude and appreciation of good cooking are contrary to every value espoused by our cannibalistic consumerist culture. Instead we spend our time measuring the plate sizes compared to the head sizes in paintings of The Last Supper! This is a howl!

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By gerard, March 26, 2010 at 2:00 pm Link to this comment

In this disgusting age of “super-size me” I rejoice to remember my grandfather at the head of the table, almost stone deaf, his shoulders bowed over his plate, saying Grace, then picking up his particular silver spoon which he had found long ago, toothmarked, in a gutter, and giving serious attention to whatever was on his plate, eating no more,no less.  “Feed our souls on the Bread of Life, and finally save us, Amen.”

We were greatly privileged in those backward times before TV, before Lindbergh landed, before the “great” depression, WW II,  “Star Wars” and “the Vietnam Syndrome.” And above all, before Progs, Repubs, Neo-libs, Accesses of Evil, PTSD, Twitter and Facebook.  The words that best typified the times for me were “Count Your Blessings.”

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