The Largest Last Supper: Depictions of Food Portions and Plate Size Increased Over the Millennium

International Journal of Obesity 34.5 (2010): 943-944

2 Pages Posted: 19 Aug 2014

See all articles by Brian Wansink

Brian Wansink

Cornell University

Craig Wansink

Virginia Wesleyan College

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Date Written: January 13, 2010


Public health concerns are increasingly being focused upon the downsides of food abundance, portion size and obesity. While this portion size focus is recent, the increasing portion size trend might have been much more gradual. If art imitates life and if food resources have become generally more available over the past millennium, we might expect the size of food the portions and plate sizes that are depicted in these paintings to increase over time. Perhaps the most commonly painted meal has been that of Jesus Christ’s Last Supper. According to the Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) in the New Testament of the Bible, the dinner takes place during a Passover evening (Matthew 26:20) in ‘a large room upstairs, already furnished’ (Mark 14:15; Luke 22:12). Although Paschal lamb would have normally been served for this particular Seder, the three accounts of the event make no mention of food other than bread and wine. Indeed, what has not been analyzed is how the depiction of food has changed with time. The prior millennium (1000-2000 AD) witnessed dramatic socio-historical increases in the production, availability, safety, abundance and affordability of food. Perhaps these changes could also be reflected in how food has been depicted in this commonly understood, but uniquely interpreted, meal. This research investigates one link between food portion-size depictions throughout history. It compares the sizes of the food and plates that have been progressively depicted in the paintings of the Last Supper over the last millennium.

Keywords: portion size, art, plate size, calories, history, content analysis

Suggested Citation

Wansink, Brian and Wansink, Craig, The Largest Last Supper: Depictions of Food Portions and Plate Size Increased Over the Millennium (January 13, 2010). International Journal of Obesity 34.5 (2010): 943-944, Available at SSRN:

Brian Wansink (Contact Author)

Cornell University ( email )

607-319-0123 (Phone)

Craig Wansink

Virginia Wesleyan College ( email )

1584 Wesleyan Drive
Norfolk, VA 23502
United States

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