Food Porn 500 Years Ago

Food Porn 500 Years Ago

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We can’t get enough of it – uploading our food obsessions to social media. We even upload images of our own cooking that we are totally surprised worked out well. But it seems that humans have always had an obsession with creating imagery around food porn.

“Our love affair with visually appealing, decadent, or status foods is nothing new,” says author Andrew Weislogel, Ph.D., Curator of Earlier European American Art at Cornell University’s Johnson Museum of Art. “It was already well-established 500 years ago.”

food

Credit: Daniel Miller

Even 500 years ago, we were at it via the social media of the day – paintings. A new analysis of European paintings shows that meat and bread were among the most commonly depicted foods in paintings of meals from the 16th century.

“Crazy meals involving less-than-healthy foods aren’t a modern craving,” explains lead author Brian Wansink, PhD, Director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab and author of Slim by Design. “Paintings from what’s sometimes called the Renaissance Period were loaded with the foods modern diets warn us about – salt, sausages, bread and more bread.”

For the study, researchers started with 750 food paintings from the past 500 years and focused on 140 paintings of family meals. Of the 36 “Renaissance Period” paintings, 86% depicted bread and 61% depicted meat while only 22% showed vegetables.

Interestingly, the most commonly painted foods were not the most readily available foods of the time. For example, the most commonly painted vegetable was an artichoke, the most commonly painted fruit was a lemon, and the most commonly painted meat was shellfish, usually lobster. According to the authors, these paintings often featured food that was indulgent, aspirational or aesthetically pleasing.

All this food porn however, might not have applied to Ireland. The troubled circumstances our history between the 15th and 18th century means that the Renaissance period pretty much sucked for us. The oil paintings of the Renaissance had no such marvellous efflorescence here. It seems no one wanted to paint indulgent scenes of colcannon, Irish stew, and potatoes. Oh well, we had stern pictures of religious stuff to look at.

So this is what we know so far: humans are obsessed with food and cats. And probably sex, but that’s a story for another day.

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