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Were the Last Supper’s portions healthy?

A study of historic paintings of the Last Supper show that Jesus and the Disciples were served healthy portions … at least at first.

Duccio di Buoninsegna's Last Supper

Over the centuries, artists have given them more and more on their plates, writes syndicated columnist Scott LaFee.

It seems that in the most ancient paintings, the portions on the plates of Christ and the chosen Twelve were appropriate for a healthy lifestyle. Then, over the last 1,000 years, the portions have grown dramatically — reflecting today’s overweight society


LaFee cites a 2010 study by brothers Brian and Craig Wansink pub­lished in the In­terna­t­ional Jour­nal of Obes­ity.

Meisters des Hausbuchs' classic

“Brian studies eating habits at Cornell University. Craig is a professor of religion at Virginia Wesleyan,” writes the LaFee. “They calculated the growth in Biblical proportions by comparing food on the table to the one constant in all of the paintings: the size of the apostles’ heads.”


They considered Last Supper paintings painted by such masters as Duccio di Buoninsegna (c. 1260-c. 1319), Tiziano Vecellio, better known as “Titian” (c. 1490-1576) and Leo­n­ardo da Vin­ci (1452-1519) — a total of 52 paintings.

They found that over the years, the por­tion sizes grew by 69 per­cent, plate sizes increased by 66 per­cent and the size of the bread grew by 23 per­cent.

“I think peo­ple as­sume that in­creased serv­ing sizes, or ‘por­tion dis­tor­tion,’ is a re­cent phe­nomenon,” wrote Bri­an Wan­sink. “But this re­search in­di­cates that it’s a gen­er­al trend for at least the last mil­len­ni­um.”

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment jestrfyl

    Though the artists were not likely allowed, or even inclined, to show the Passover meal (too Jewish), it was that which preceded the “Last Supper”. No portions should have been shown because everything should have ben eaten! My favorite post-resurrection painting is Dali’s titled “Last Supper”, though based on the scene it could also be “The First Breakfast” (Galilee is in the background and clearly the partial cruciform figure has been raised). The question of portion size is ridiculous, betraying a culture of overfeeding and food obsession.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment pagansister

    Were the 12 and Jesus actually worried about their weight? No one really knows what portions they would have had.

  • Maria Carillet

    peo­ple as­sume that in­creased serv­ing sizes, or por­tion dis­tor­tion, is a re­cent phe­nomenon, wrote Bri­an Wan­sink. Really no one knows what portions they would have had.

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