Biblical Archaeology Review 36:5, September/October 2010

Strata: A Supper of Biblical Portions

It’s a far cry from a Big Mac and fries, but not even the Last Supper has escaped the supersizing trend. According to a recent study published in the International Journal of Obesity, the tendency toward bigger food portions didn’t start with McDonald’s but is part of a “very long trend,” reflected in paintings of history’s most famous meal.

Brian Wansink, a professor of consumer behavior at Cornell, teamed up with his brother Craig Wansink, a professor of religious studies at Virginia Wesleyan College, to compare the sizes of the meal, platters and bread in 52 paintings of the Last Supper dating from 1000 to 2000 A.D. Using a computer, they compared the food to the size of the disciples’ heads to get a relative proportion. Their research showed a “clear trajectory” toward larger food depictions: Main courses grew by 69 percent, plates by 66 percent and bread by 23 percent. (For example, compare the seemingly sparse spread in Duccio di Buoninsegna’s early-14th-century painting above to the lavish feast in Daniele Crespi’s 1625 work below.)

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