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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soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. Joe H

    Considering that the "last supper" was a pasover seder, none of the classic European Roman paintings (including the above) show what would have been served during this important meal. All bread would have been unleavened (matzah) and traditional passover foods would be shown such as lamb, egg, marror-bitter herbs, charoset made of sweet fruits & nuts, karpas or vegetable other than bitter. Jesus was a Jew and followed Torah faithfully.

    To think that someone actually uses art to determine what or how much people ate hundreds or even thousands of years ago is absurd. What about the many paintings showing abundance? Artists typically do not paint historically but what their political or emotional view agenda is, or who financed the artist.

    March 23, 2010 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jim Bob

    More likely than portion size increase is the growing importance of the Church's Eucharist.

    March 23, 2010 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Really?

    What's funny to me is there are actual researchers that waste precious time coming up with that. WHO CARES!?

    March 23, 2010 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
  4. jill

    i agree

    March 23, 2010 at 7:18 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Austin

    Actually up until recently art was directly tied to history. Yeah, they wouldn't have been eating the bread depicted in the paintings, but it doesn't discredit the fact that the proportions have increased over the last 1000 years. Society is going to influence what is painted so to understand history why can't we look at paintings?

    March 24, 2010 at 1:08 am | Report abuse |
  6. john

    If the artist was not on the spot for the last supper he is just using his discretion..move on.

    March 24, 2010 at 6:51 am | Report abuse |
  7. Texan

    How do the artists that did this painting and all of those depicting other people and places in that time period?

    March 24, 2010 at 7:39 am | Report abuse |
  8. Texan

    sorry, I meant to ask how did any of those artists know what those people looked like in that time period?

    March 24, 2010 at 7:41 am | Report abuse |
  9. Noypi

    I'm not sure if this really depicts what happened. The artist made this hundred or thousand years after the last supper. The researcher's findings are unbelievable and the evidence is inconclusive. Instead of doing these pointless researches, why don't they spend it on helping to avert global warming!

    March 24, 2010 at 10:00 am | Report abuse |
  10. Excellent

    What an incredibly useful study. Money well spent!

    March 24, 2010 at 10:18 am | Report abuse |
  11. nepali guy from brt

    i am so amazed that many ppl seriously are after these historical one knows the truth....

    March 24, 2010 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
  12. Casey

    I am actually a student at Dr. Wansink's college and I think that it close-minded to say that we should not be looking at new ways to research things. Once you say that art is not indicative of history, you discredit Art History as a course and many other things that go along with it.

    I do not understand how people can say that there is no usefulness to this, when you consider that research that will stem from it might help to explain and supplement other studies that discuss why so many people in this country are obese.

    So I am not saying that this could not be inaccurate, but at the same time, people are ignoring that fact that regardless of the actual size of the portions on the original, the portions size in subsequent versions of the painting have indeed GROWN. So what does that say about us and food as a culture?

    March 24, 2010 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Mike Buechele

    Is the food bigger to show perspective? These are paintings right?

    March 24, 2010 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Josh

    Wow. Okay. Please read the article again, people. It's not proposing that da Vinci or any other artists were present during the Last Supper (which would be astonishing, considering it never really happened). It's stating that portion and plate sizes in 50 different depictions of the Last Supper have drastically increased over time. Therefore, they deduct that our portion sizes have also increased over time.

    Example; it's 2010, and Bob Artman decides he wants to paint his own interpretation of the Last Supper. He's seen several other artists' renderings of the event, but finds the entree portions in those paintings to be laughable. There's no way that much food could satisfy anyone's appetite, he thinks, so he decides to make the portions bigger.

    That's it. That's all it's saying. All this discussion on the validity of the food being served during the Last Supper is completely inane.

    Also, "computer aided design technology" is most likely the news media way of saying PHOTOSHOP. Money well spent? Give me a break! I could replicate this study in under 10 minutes by utilizing Google Images and Photoshop.

    March 24, 2010 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Michele Kelly

    To say this research is not valid it to say that Art and the effects on it be history are not valid. I am a student of Dr. Craig Wansink, myself, and have enjoyed every class I have had with him. As a political science/international studies double major and a history/classics double minior at Virginia Wesleyan College, I believe that context is the most important thing when going into research and learning. Be the context historical, scientific, political, or literature it is important to all aspects of the research.

    This study shows the growth of the artist's "discretion" in food portions over time. Each of these artists most likely researched their subjects before painting and since there is nothing about the food they may have eaten painted what they felt would be there. Since the servings have grown in the paintings over time it does show a growth in the typical portion of food. The artist is influenced by his own environment meaning that he will paint a portion size similar to his own, which means this study shows the growth of portion sizes shown from the first Last Supper painting to the last. It is an effective study to show that the portion growth is not a new phenomenon, but has accelerated over time.

    Please realize that this is an effective study though it may be unorthodox. Respect the researchers because they tries to do something whether you agree with it or not. Be open-minded it's the best way to go about life. Accept there are other people with different opinions and try to understand them not denounce them.

    March 25, 2010 at 10:17 am | Report abuse |
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