A History of Food Photography – Part 2

Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year receives entries from all over the world so this blog post will look at different styles of still life paintings across Europe in the 17th and 18th century.

Image: Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin - The Meat Day Meal, 1731.

Source: Fine Arts Prints on Demand

Rome and cities of the Netherlands and Northern France were the leading regions of still life painting, depicting tables of food, game in kitchens, and where sweet dishes were imperative. Spanish still life, ‘bodegon’ (literally ‘cellar’) focused on just a few kinds of food in a small area.

Meanwhile England, produced its own conventions; dishes set out on the table usually had some hint of recent consumption but with no-one in sight, as if the pantry was emptied to form a beautiful arrangement of meat, bread, cheese and fruit. The food seemed more attainable if there were no other people around. Dutch painters of the 17th century piled succulent foods high amongst fine tableware, reinforcing the idea that a full larder was a sign of wealth.

The 18th century saw more elaborate still life paintings - carefully chosen food with unusual shape or texture. Grand banquets appeared in their entirety. Jean-Simeon Chardin, a significant still life painter, produced many realist paintings in the 1700’s. Everyday objects gained dreamlike elements yet blended into a realistic atmosphere. Much of his work showed seasonal food at religious events. Juxtaposing food and kitchen utensils suggested that a meal was being prepared. This display of class and status by wealthy people at the time is a significant historical point when assessing contemporary food photography.

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