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Distributed for Reaktion Books

Food in Art

From Prehistory to the Renaissance

Distributed for Reaktion Books

Food in Art

From Prehistory to the Renaissance

From Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s painting of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II as a heap of fruits and vegetables to artists depicting lavish banquets for wealthy patrons, food and art are remarkably intertwined. In this richly illustrated book, Gillian Riley provides fresh insight into how the relationship between humans and food has been portrayed in art from ancient times to the Renaissance.
Exploring a myriad of images including hunting scenes depicted in Egyptian Books of Hours and fruit in Roman wall paintings and mosaics, Riley argues that works of art present us with historical information about the preparation and preservation of food that written sources do not—for example, how meat, fish, cheese, and vegetables were dried, salted, and smoked, or how honey was used to conserve fruit. She also examines what these works reveal to us about how animals and plants were raised, cultivated, hunted, harvested, and traded throughout history. Looking at the many connections between food, myth, and religion, she surveys an array of artworks to answer questions such as whether the Golden Apples of the Hesperides were in fact apples or instead quinces or oranges. She also tries to understand whether our perception of fruit in Christian art is skewed by their symbolic meaning.
With 170 color images of fine art, illuminated manuscripts, mosaics, frescoes, stained glass, and funerary monuments, Food in Art is an aesthetically pleasing and highly readable book for art buffs and foodies alike.

288 pages | 170 color plates, 10 halftones | 7 1/2 x 9 4/5

Art: Art--General Studies

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Food in Art shows how paintings teach us about everyday life after other evidence has vanished. Roman frescos and mosaics provide useful information about the use of humble utensils such as strainers, pots, and skillets, which, previously, archaeologists and historians tended to dismiss as ‘possible rituals objects of uncertain use.” 

Country Life

“A joyful and sumptuously illustrated ramble through visual feasts from the Stone Age to Renaissance Italy.”

Times Literary Supplement

“Filtered through Riley’s irreverent, witty, and ever-imaginative style, Food in Art is a guide through the sprawling past of art’s many interpretations of food, from the divine to the profound, and crucially the dark, humorous, and absurd. From the practicality of ancient Egyptian illustrated breadmaking techniques to the strange vanity of Roman mosaic floors designed to look covered in the remnants of a lavish banquet, mice and all, Food in Art calls for some self-reflection.” 

Hackney Citizen

“This lavishly illustrated survey of art depicting food throughout history will surprise and delight readers, who will learn about edible animals, plants, and the culinary arts from unexpected sources such as Paleolithic cave paintings, Mesopotamian seals, Egyptian art, Pompeian frescoes, illuminated manuscripts, and Renaissance paintings.”


Table of Contents

1. Glimpses of Food in the Paleolithic World
2. Eating in the Ancient Middle East: Mesopotamia
3. The Pleasures of Food in Ancient Greece
4. In Ancient Greece and Rome
5. Bright Feasts in the Dark Ages
6. The Middle Ages
7. Realism and Symbolism in the Renaissance Kitchen
8. Late Renaissance Modernity
Select Bibliography
Photo Acknowledgements

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