art, history, film, books for the culinary enthusiast

Food in the Louvre, Book Review

Food in the Louvre, Book Review

‘Food in the Louvre’ and other thoughts on food in art….

Food in the Louvre, by Paul Bocuse and Yves Pinard is a collection of food-related art that resides at The Louvre.

I purchased this book because I love art, I love the Louvre, and I love food, so naturally it caught my attention. But I was interested in it for one other reason as well.

There’s been a trend for the last few years in food photography, and it’s all about the dark background. I’m a lifelong art museum visitor, and so when the dark background came into vogue, it immediately reminded me of the still life food paintings from around the 16th – 18th centuries.

The Dutch were especially proficient in this art as their knack for realism with almost microscopic detailing lent itself to the style.

The Dutch were masters of the Still life with Food, Flower and Musical themes

Pieter Claesz still life painting
‘Still Life with Musical Instruments’ by Pieter Claesz, 1623

Still life paintings often included food, musical instruments and flowers. In this painting by Dutch artist, Pieter Claesz, we also see some natural history in the form of a small turtle. Perhaps he’ll be made into soup later on…or was Turtle Soup a Victorian invention? For his sake, I hope so. In the book the authors describe the turtle as a trustworthy and wise tortoise who relishes the painter’s musical talents.

Throughout Food in The Louvre there are examples of art with a description of the piece  as well as interesting facts, a bit of history, and interpretations that one most likely would not know before reading. It begins with selections from Ancient Egypt, through to Medieval tapestries, and then onto the Renaissance and 18th century.

Symbolism in Medieval and Renaissance Paintings

Oranges, cherries, pomegranates, limes, apples…fruit, with it’s often glistening exteriors and intense colors made for excellent subject matter. And then of course, during the Medieval and Renaissance eras, everything was symbolic, and so the fruit was commonly used to convey a message to the viewer.

Still life painting with cherries
Still Life with Fruit and Artichokes, by Pierre Subleyras

For example, rotting fruit was often a symbol for the frailty and transient nature of life, lemons (especially peeled) illustrated that something can be beautiful on the outside, but bitter on the inside, the apple – temptation and sin, oranges – wealth, pomegranates – fertility (all those seeds!).

I’m not sure what little tart pies mean (see above on tray), maybe that they’re just delicious and people have known that for some time!

Chardin Ray Still Life

Another reason culinary paintings are often of interest is because they give so much insight into who ate what when. Within the text of this book, recipes are scattered throughout that coordinate with the images shown. For example, next to Chardin’s famous work, The Ray , are instructions on how to cook such a fish.
Bon Appétit!

(And btw, that’s not a little face on the Ray…those are his gills)

The beautiful painting on the cover of Food in the Louvre, Still Life with China Vase (detail) is after William Kalf, 1655-1665.

Food in the Louvre can be bought on Amazon