13 May 2008

Reflections on Food in Art #1

This is the first in a series of posts where we'll take a look at food depicted in visual art. By no means is this meant to be an exhaustive list, rather just the personal thoughts of one simple me to the representation of cuisine.

I could think of no better painting with which to begin this study than Picasso's Charnel House of c. 1945. On a table -- drawn in loose line -- sits a warm meal uneaten. On the floor below the table lies the remains of a tortured family, gagged and broken.

Such an image of unrequited sustenance and grotesque death conjures in my mind a scene from the Aeneid. Aeneas and his men have just been shipwrecked and the sailors are trying to strain loose grain that had tumbled from barrels into the water during the chaos of the storm. They will cook these grains on fires lit on the soaked shore. This marks the first time the Trojans had set foot on land since leaving Troy -- a Troy burning in flame. And as they had left the burning city, Aeneas had paused for just a moment in reflection and shock before the Temple of Ceres, goddess of grain. In Vergil's image, we see the forces of life and death subverted and reinstalled.

Likewise in Picasso's meditation of rage on the senseless killing of the Second World War, we see the necessary and the whole and the true perverted. All that remains is the casserole that speaks volumes more about senselessness and suffering than any voice ungagged ever could.

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