Food is the foundation of our existence and has always played an important role in social and cultural life. That is why she herself and the practices of her consumption have always been reflected in art.
Today, Instagram photography, even far from a masterpiece, can tell us about how the author has money, what habits and lifestyle he has. At the same time, hidden meanings in food images are not a new phenomenon. She was invariably associated with eroticism, wealth, exoticism and allowed “to show what is hidden.”
The transfer to literature, painting and mosaic art of feasts and bacchanals took place even in Ancient Greece and Rome. And in Egypt there was a tradition to depict food on the inner walls of burial chambers and coffins: it was believed that the drawings would nourish the deceased in his “life after death.” In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the image of food acquires a symbolic character, becomes an allegory for certain values and virtues.
In the 15th century, artists became increasingly inspired by the culture of Antiquity, and besides nature: still, life becomes part of the composition of paintings, religious or secular. But by the 17th century, still, life had become an independent genre in Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands.
The food was portrayed realistically, with many details. At the forefront were the Dutch and Flemish masters who depicted abundant and generous portions. They especially loved game, bird, lobster, shellfish, exotic citrus fruits, grapes. Dear delicacies symbolized the chic lifestyle with which the owner of the painting dreamed of identifying himself. But sometimes such works served as a reminder of the perishability of luxury or the danger of gluttony. Some canvases called for abstinence, others for constant celebration and pleasures. Rotting fruits, for example, could symbolize that “everything will pass” and life is fleeting.
The food helped to “freeze” the moment, slow down the flow of time, show mastery of observing real objects, masterly mastery of color and work with the form. So, Jan Vermeer went a different way than his Dutch contemporaries. In his famous painting “Milkman”, he used expensive pigments, rich colors, amazing lighting to show the simplest food milk, and bread.
Food and real life
Towards the end of the 19th century, artists began to increasingly look at the image of people who eat or socialize while sitting at the table. For example, Vincent Van Gogh’s The Potato Eaters picture is built on that. The artist in his letter to his brother Theo wrote that he was trying to show the peasants who honestly and hard work.
Other authors, such as Paul Cezanne, used still life to show the possibilities of the new art. In Still Life with Drapery, the artist intentionally distorts the perspective in order to emphasize the rejection of the outdated principles of still life construction, on which everything is shown from one angle.
The Impressionists loved to show the social aspect of sharing food, the emotions that it carries.
Food in 20th Century Art
In the XX century, artists deform lines, rethink color, sharpen images, work with the plane, which means that food loses its shape and recognition. But this is only one side of the issue. What we eat allows artists to watch a changing society.
In the mid-50s, artists were just as actively using food as a way to express themselves, and first of all to pay attention to thoughtless consumption and mass production. Andy Warhol criticizes homogeneous society using 32 cans of Campbell soups lined up in rows; Wayne Thibault draws cakes, symbolizing endless optimistic prosperity; Roy Lichtenstein creates a surreal “Still Life with a Crystal Bowl” on it the fruits are as if cut from a magazine, deprived of life.
With the advent of the movement “There is art” in the 60s, the food leaves the canvas and becomes material for creativity, the same as paper and pencil.
Food inspires people of art again and again, and this will continue as long as both exist in the world.