Food Art Does Not Reflect Reality: A Quantitative Content Analysis of Meals in Popular Paintings

SAGE Open (July-September 2016: 1–10) DOI: 10.1177/2158244016654950

10 Pages Posted: 5 Feb 2020

Date Written: July 18, 2016

Abstract

Can the frequency with which a food is depicted in paintings give historical insight into family meals over the years and across countries? To initially explore this question, 750 food-related paintings were screened down to 140 paintings from Western Europe and the United States depicting small, family meals. Quantitative content analyses showed the most frequently eaten foods (such as chicken, eggs, and squash) were least frequently depicted in paintings. In contrast, the most aspirational foods such as shellfish were commonly painted in countries with the smallest coastlines (Germany), and over half (51.4%) of the paintings from the seafaring Netherlands contained non-indigenous tropical lemons. Moreover, although bread and apples have been commonly available over time, bread has been painted 74% less frequently and apples painted 302% more frequently. In general, paintings tend to feature meals with foods that were either aspirational to the commissioning family, aesthetically pleasing or technically difficult for the painter, or that encoded cultural, religious, or political information for informed viewers. Care should be taken to not project food depictions in paintings as indicative of what was actually served or eaten in that country at the time.

Suggested Citation

Wansink, Brian and Weislogel, Andrew and mukund, anupama, Food Art Does Not Reflect Reality: A Quantitative Content Analysis of Meals in Popular Paintings (July 18, 2016). SAGE Open (July-September 2016: 1–10) DOI: 10.1177/2158244016654950, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2811123

Brian Wansink (Contact Author)

Retired ( email )

607-319-0123 (Phone)

Andrew Weislogel

Cornell University ( email )

Ithaca, NY 14853
United States

Anupama Mukund

Cornell University ( email )

Ithaca, NY 14853
United States

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