Archive for June, 2013


Since I know at least some of my readers make their way over here from my work on the Pizza Lab articles over on Pizza Clubhouse I decided to write some food related posts. I imagine coming here and seeing posts about art is rather disappointing after reading about and looking at pictures of delicious pizza. Hopefully this will be a nice compromise. I’ll start with a look at food in paintings.
A good place to find paintings of food is in Northern Baroque art. I’m not just saying that because it’s some of my favorite art – the Dutch are known for their genre paintings. In the North where the population was more dominantly Protestant, there wasn’t as much of a market for explicitly religious themed art as there was in places like Catholic Italy. Some genre paintings do still have certain subtle Christian iconography, but you have to know what you’re looking for. There are a lot of still lives of flowers, but there’s also a lot with food.

Meat Seller's Stall, Pieter Aertsen, 1551, oil on panel

Meat Seller’s Stall, Pieter Aertsen, 1551, oil on panel


A whole lot of food can be found in Pieter Aertsen’s painting Meat Seller’s Stall. The viewer is greeted with sausages, beef, pork, fowls, cheese, mussels, fish, and of course pretzels. To the modern eye some of this food may not be the most appealing – overall we’re not used to seeing the aces of the food we eat – but it’s still a wonderful painting. The food items are so detailed, you could pick out from the painting what you might want to buy for dinner.
Still-Life with Colander and Artichokes, Clara Peeters, 1613, oil on panel

Still-Life with Colander and Artichokes, Clara Peeters, 1613, oil on panel

Another painting that beautifully captures food is Still-Life with Colander and Artichokes by Clara Peeters. Unfortunately I could not find a good quality image to share, but you’ll have to take my word for it. It’s so detailed it could almost look like a photograph. You half expect the crabs to start sidling away.
Still Life with Parrots, Jan Davidsz de Heem, 1640-45, oil on canvas

Still Life with Parrots, Jan Davidsz de Heem, 1640-45, oil on canvas


In opposition to the everyday food found in the previous paintings, some painters depicted exotic, rare foods. This can be seen in paintings like Still Life with Parrots by Jan Davidsz de Heem. There are melons, citrus fruits, conch, lobster, shrimp, and more. The fancy tableware (which I’ll get to more in depth in another post) emphasizes the expensiveness of the scene, and the parrots emphasize the exotic nature of it all. It’s a beautiful scene meant to show wealth through the food afforded.
The Milkmaid, Jan Vermeer, 1658-60, oil on canvas

The Milkmaid, Jan Vermeer, 1658-60, oil on canvas


Food also makes appearances in paintings where it’s not the main star. This can be seen in paintings like Jan Vermeer’s painting The Milkmaid. The subject is most definitely the young girl pouring milk. However the bread in the foreground is rendered in just as much detail, and in fact is in more light than the girl is. The bread is not just a prop, it’s an important part of the scene.

So why was food such a popular subject? For one it was a challenge for painters to test their skills. You had to be a good painter to accurately depict all the different textures of food. Another reason is that food carries with it a lot of meaning culturally. As we’ve seen, certain foods could speak to a person’s wealth. Different foods also carry with them different connotations, so food allowed the painter to imbue a painting with meaning without it being overwhelmingly obvious. Plus, just in general food is appealing to people. Genre paintings were often not commissions, but rather painted and sold on the open market, so they needed subjects that would appeal to a wide audience. If you want people to buy your stuff, lure them in with food.

More Pretty Pictures

Hello all.  I had to create a Pinterest account in order to do research for a paper last semester.  Instead of just leaving it empty I decided to make a board for the blog.  So now you can follow my Aesthetic Musings Pinterest board.  I’ll add pieces I find beautiful and interesting, and every so often I’ll do a Pinterest Round-up post and discuss some of the pieces and why I added them/think they’re relevant.  Enjoy!