Super Sizing the Last Supper

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

An analysis of the 52 most famous paintings of the Last Supper painted over the past 1,000 years finds they’ve gotten heftier over time. The analysis was facilitated by computer-aided design technology that allowed items in the paintings to be scanned, rotated, and their size calculated regardless of their orientation in the painting. The findings:

  • The size of the entrées has progressively grown 69 percent in the course of the millennium.
  • Plate size has increased 66 percent.
  • Bread size has increased ~23 percent.

The results suggest the phenomenon of serving bigger portions on bigger plates—which pushes people to overeat—has occurred gradually over the millennium. The research was conducted by Brian Wansink of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, and author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, and his brother, Craig Wansink, professor of religious studies at Virginia Wesleyan College, Norfolk, Va., and an ordained Presbyterian minister. Brian Wansink says:

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

The paper’s in April 2010 International Journal of Obesity.


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  • Julia Whitty is the environmental correspondent for Mother Jones. Her latest book is Deep Blue Home: An Intimate Ecology of Our Wild Ocean. For more of her stories, click here.