March 23rd, 2010
11:02 AM ET

Study: Paintings are super-sizing the 'Last Supper'

Jesus and his disciples would be eating a lot more at the Last Supper if it occurred in modern times, according to a study from Cornell University.

Researchers Brian Wansink, a professor of marketing and applied economics at Cornell, and his brother Craig Wansink, a professor of religious studies at Virginia Wesleyan College, analyzed more than 50 depictions of the Last Supper painted in the past 1,000 years to look at portion sizes.

Using computer aided design technology, the brothers compared the size of the portions, bread and plates with the average size of the heads in 52 paintings. Entrees increased 69 percent in size during the 1,000 years, plate size 66 percent and bread size 23 percent, the Wansinks reported in a study published in the April edition of The International Journal of Obesity.

The U.S. government reported in 2005 that portion sizes had been increasing steadily since the 1970s. But the researchers say their findings show the increase in portion sizes has been a thousand-year evolution.

"The last thousand years have witnessed dramatic increases in the production, availability, safety, abundance and affordability of food," said Brian Wansink. "We think that as art imitates life, these changes have been reflected in paintings of history's most famous dinner."

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  1. Kourtni Brown

    I'm one of Dr. Wansink's students and felt the need to give my own opinion. Historically art is a reflection of reality, and the artists during these art movements would have been consciences of the accuracy of their paintings. So art is reflecting the reality of portion size increasing. Add this to the fact that in the past several years researchers have been able to definitively prove that portions have been increasing in our society and there is compelling evidence that it is not just a recent phenomenon but a growing concern over time.
    Either way it is a fascinating study that brings in both art history, religion, and current social concerns. I know many academics are going to find this of value to them despite some of the previous negative comments.

    March 25, 2010 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
  2. Stephanie

    I see I'm commenting a bit late, but for those saying this is a waste of time:

    As Kourtni has said, art reflects culture. It shows us the progression of our eating habits. It helps us understand more about why the world is becoming so dangerously obese. Artists generally draw what they're familiar/interested in, whether this is done intentionally or not. So someone who is morbidly obese who eats six triple cheeseburgers per day is going to draw more food on Jesus' table than someone who follows a proper diet with portion control. It also shows us things about societies. Someone from a society like present day America is going to draw more food than someone from 600 years ago when portions were smaller and exercise was more common.

    It's not about scientifically proving that Jesus ate an extra piece of bread. It's about how cultures project ideas into our art, and what those ideas are.

    June 12, 2010 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Matt

    I would like to know this... What are some of the health statistics of the painters themselves? Were they themselves overweight or obese?

    July 6, 2010 at 9:32 am | Report abuse |
  4. Franklin

    In the painting does it not look like Apostle Peter is going to attack someone. He has a knife, everyone at that side of the table looks startle. It also seems like he's pushing his way through.

    February 3, 2011 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Franklin

      Also it seems hes headed that way in his position. Another Apostle is grabing for him.

      February 3, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
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