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Visitor trails The Art of Eating, Rituals and Symbolism

Thematic trail - Length: 1 hr 30 mins - Tour days: Monday Wednesday Friday Saturday Sunday

Children School groups

Jean-François de TROY (Paris, 1679 - Rome, 1752)
Jean-François de TROY (Paris, 1679 - Rome, 1752)

© R.M.N./C. Jean

00Introduction

Discover depictions of meals in the collections of the Louvre, from antiquity to the 18th century.

Although they are very different from each other, and date from different eras, the works selected all display common concepts of conviviality and sharing in connection with meals, be they funerary, mythological, religious, or simply everyday meals.
These works, which are often inspired by everyday life, reveal the diversity of meal rituals, the dishes served, and the tableware and cutlery that were increasingly used. Above and beyond this portrayal of everyday life, the table assumed different symbolic meanings according to the place and period. In antiquity, it accompanied the deceased during his journey to the afterlife, while in the Christian religion it became an altar at the Last Supper.

 

How to get to the next stop:
From the Pyramid, follow the signs to Sully. Pass through the medieval Louvre, then, when you are standing opposite the Sphinx, take the staircase to your left. Go to room 3, then turn right into room 4.

Chapel of the tomb of Akhethotep
Chapel of the tomb of Akhethotep

© Musée du Louvre/C. Larrieu

01Mastaba of Akhethotep

The ancient Egyptians ate a wide variety of vegetables, together with salads, poultry, and fish. Wine was drunk only by members of the elite; beer (heneket) was more widely consumed.
The banquets enjoyed by the most powerful members of society were always accompanied by music. Women sang and danced, accompanied by a flute and a harp. Enter the funerary chapel. On the right-hand wall, a seated man prepares to eat the meal that is presented opposite him. The various dishes depicted represent his “menu” for eternity. This meal, divided into four registers, lists the foods (outside the mastaba, on the left as you go out, a drawing identifies them). The pictures ensured, through magic, the material survival in the afterlife of this important dignitary, whose body would have been placed in a cavity above.
Members of the family or priests also brought real offerings, which the deceased’s soul fed off by passing through the false doors, carved in the center of the chapel. The granite table for the offerings is now displayed in a vitrine outside.
The carved dishes for the meal have replaced the real offerings.

How to get to the next stop:
Retrace your steps, walk past the Sphinx once again, and go up the staircase straight ahead. After room 5, turn left and go to the entrance to the collections of Etruscan antiquities.

The "Sarcophagus of the Spouses"
The "Sarcophagus of the Spouses"

© Musée du Louvre, dist. RMN / Philippe Fuzeau

02Sarcophagus of a married couple from Cerveteri

The reclining banquet was a frequent subject in the civilizations of antiquity. In a funerary context, it might be a funeral meal, the banquet of the blessed in the afterlife, or simply a representation of the deceased in an activity characteristic of his social status. 
Unlike women in Greece at this time, Etruscan women attended banquets, testifying to their important role in society.
Walk around the sarcophagus in order to see this reclining couple from every angle.
The couple are portrayed as banqueters, half-reclining on beds covered with mattresses. They belonged to the elite of Etruscan society.
The wife, sumptuously dressed and adorned with jewelry, has a tutulus (conical hat) and wears boots with curved tips. Her husband may be wearing a blond wig.
Note the curious folded cushions that the couple are leaning on: they are goatskins for wine. Wine was a luxury drink, and sets of wine vessels, consisting of large numbers of pieces, varied greatly in style, as demonstrated by the drinking cups of diverse forms displayed in the vitrine to the right.

How to get to the next stop:
After leaving the room, go up the first flight of steps of the staircase to the left. Go through room B and take the elevator L on the left. On the 1st floor, turn left into room 6.

The Wedding Feast at Cana
The Wedding Feast at Cana

© 2010 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier

03The Wedding Feast at Cana

In Venice during the 16th century, the banquet was a veritable spectacle. The U-shaped table made it possible for musicians and jesters to perform in the center. Meals were served in six to eight carefully ordered courses, organized by a steward.
The esquire trenchants, recognizable by their red sticks, monitor the cutting of the meat, which in earlier times would have been carried out by the head of the house.
A sumptuous marriage is being celebrated. The married couple have been placed at the end of the table to the left. The principal figure is Christ, in the center, who is performing his first miracle by turning water into wine. On the right, the wine waiter overseeing the serving of the wine studies the miraculously transformed liquid. Notice the columns of pink marble on either side supporting the cornice. The latter was a trompe-loeil extension of the carved cornice in the refectory of the monastery that commissioned the painting. The lavish banquet depicted in the painting would have contrasted with the simple, silent meals of the Benedictine monks. Only Christ and his mother are dressed in antique costume. The other guests are members of the Venetian elite of 1562. By transposing the wedding to a contemporary setting, Veronese was modernizing the gospels.

How to get to the next stop:
Retrace your steps, turn right, and go to the Winged Victory of Samothrace. Here, turn left, pass through rooms 34 and 74, and take elevator C on the right. On the 2nd floor, go from room 65 to room 19, then turn left and continue until you come to room 5. Turn right and go as far as room 10. Turn left into room 7 and continue until you reach room 14.

The Marriage of Thetis and Perseus, or The Feast of the Gods
The Marriage of Thetis and Perseus, or The Feast of the Gods

© Musée du Louvre/A. Dequier - M. Bard

04The Wedding of Thétis and Pélée or The Feast of the Gods

In the 16th century, the queens of France that had come from Italy brought great Florentine chefs with them, who introduced refined foods such as artichoke hearts, truffles, Parmesan, and quenelles. New desserts appeared, such as macaroons, ice cream, zabaglione, marzipan, and fruit jellies. Use of a two-pronged fork derived from Byzantium spread, refined behavior consisting in avoiding all direct contact with food.
Around the married couple Thétis and Pélée, at the center of the table, the Greek gods are in couples. In keeping with contemporary convention, the men’s skin is brown and the women’s milky white.
Note the profusion of precious tableware in vermeil, crystal, and mother of pearl. This was a period when elegant, complex shapes were popular, such as the goblet adorned with a nautilus shell. Poseidon, god of the sea, identifiable by his trident, is holding one in his hand.
In the foreground, in the wine cooler, amphorae and ewers are ready for the libations of Dionysus, crowned in grapes and sat on the left.
Look at the food, which includes ornate tarts and pâtés, lobsters, and oysters. Among the diverse fruit and vegetables can be seen artichokes, melons, and cherries.

How to get to the next stop:
Retrace your steps to room 9.

Retable de la Déploration du Christ
Retable de la Déploration du Christ

© Musée du Louvre/A. Dequier - M. Bard

05Altarpiece of the Lamentation of Christ

The predella, a long, narrow panel of wood, is the lower part of an altarpiece. Placed above the altar, it created the visual illusion of extending it.
During this last meal, Christ, surrounded by the twelve apostles, institutes the eucharist, the founding sacrament of the mass.
On the table covered by a white tablecloth can be seen daisies, violets, and rosemary. The simplicity of the pewter plates contrasts with the originality and variety of the glassware. The glass placed in front of Christ takes the form of a chalice. The wine is pale, or has perhaps been mixed with water. The only item of cutlery is a knife with a wooden handle.
One of the apostles has turned toward Judas and seems to be accusing him of having betrayed Christ. The painter, depicted as the wine waiter on the left, is the fourteenth guest. In the center of the table, the pewter dish where bread is soaking in wine serves as a counterpoint to the copper bowl in the center of the altarpiece. Through the bread, the symbol of his body, Jesus is offering himself, foreshadowing his sacrifice represented in the central panel of the altarpiece above.
Note the round shape on the platter in front of Jesus. Is it an apple or an orange, known as the “apple from China”? This fruit, symbol of Adam’s original sin, is a reference to his redemption by Christ.

How to get to the next stop:

Cross rooms 7 to 11 and continue straight ahead. In room 16, turn left and go to room 29.

Repas de paysans
Repas de paysans

© Musée du Louvre/A. Dequier - M. Bard

06The Peasant Meal

In the 17th century, genre scenes like this Peasant Meal often had a symbolic meaning. Were they accurate portrayals of contemporary peasant life or religious metaphors? The bread and wine, depicted alone on a table, recall the eucharist. The central figure in these works can often be seen as Christ. 
Three figures are seated: the master of the house is flanked by two peasants who are more shabbily dressed; one of them, like the children, has no shoes. Only the men are seated at the table; the woman, standing further back, is serving them. Note the white tablecloth thrown across the bench serving as a table. It structures the composition and reflects the light. A few everyday objects stand out: a stoneware jug, a tin dish, a knife. Contrasting with these everyday items, the stemmed glasses seem to have been brought out especially for the occasion. On feast days, a fiddler would be summoned. In the background, the four-poster bed (right) and window (center) indicate that this was the home of a comfortably off peasant of the 17th century.

How to get to the next stop:

Go down into room 32, go through room 33, turn right and go to room 40.

Grace
Grace

© 2010 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier

07Saying Grace

In the second half of the 18th century, the use of a separate room reserved for meals became more widespread, and the dining room table became a distinct item of furniture. Previously, the table would be set up in anterooms, salons, or bedrooms, with planks of wood placed across trestles, and dismantled outside mealtimes.
Here we are witnessing a familiar scene, that of the saying of grace before the meal. This prayer is addressed to God to ask him to bless the meal and those who prepared it. The mother and the elder sister are looking down at the young child, who is getting ready to recite the prayer. Action has been suspended; time has stopped. 
Look at the angle of the mother’s body. Combined with the ellipse of the table, it forms a sphere that encompasses the figures, reinforcing the intimate character of the scene. The plates and soup tureen on the table, and utensils, bottles, and jugs on the shelf evoke everyday life.
If you step back from the picture, you will notice that the painter seems to have adopted the viewpoint of the child, who, like us, looks up at her mother. The position of the chair at an angle opens the scene up.

How to get to the next stop:

Look at the right-hand wall.

Family Taking Breakfast
Family Taking Breakfast

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier

08The Breakfast

This is an everyday scene in the life of a rich bourgeois family in the 18th century.
In France at this time, Le Déjeuner (the French title of this painting) was eaten in the morning, followed by the dîner at lunchtime and the souper in the evening.
The use of chocolate and coffee, which came from the colonies, became increasingly widespread in the wealthy society of the time.
Let us enter this family scene, which takes place one sunny morning. A little table has been set up in a corner of the bedroom in a haphazard way. It is so small that there is only room a few cups. The table’s lacquer, the buddha, and the Chinese porcelain figure, together with the blue and white vase, add an exotic touch. The design of the porcelain service—cups without handles, saucers, and sugar bowl—was influenced by Chinese tea bowls.
See how, through their gaze, the man and woman invite the child in the bottom right to join them. The latter, who holds some toys, looks as though she has just got up and entered the room. Her cup is still sitting face down on the table.
This small-format painting has a gilt frame in the rocaille style. This genre scene doubtless adorned an interior in the same style as the one depicted by the artist.

How to get to the next stop:

Retrace your steps until you reach room 38 and look at the right-hand wall.

Hunt Breakfast
Hunt Breakfast

© 2005 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

09The Hunt Luncheon

In 18th-century France, meals were elaborate affairs, with an ordered sequence of dishes and a particular way of serving them. There were numerous dishes, which were brought to the table in a series of waves, called services. Soup and appetizers were followed by roasts and salads, which were followed by desserts. The meal ended with fruit.
See how these aristocrats, who have sat down for a meal during a pause in the hunt, have re-created their familiar decor in the open air. The table is laid in lavish style, and the dogs are taking part in the feast. The carriage and horses are moving off as servants arrive carrying chairs. In the foreground, other servants are removing silver tableware from wicker baskets, together with the cold food, which they are arranging on a table covered with a heavy damask tablecloth.
The space left empty in the foreground invites the viewer to sit at table. Indeed, this monumental painting adorned the dining room of the royal château at Fontainebleau alongside the Halt during a Hunt by Vanloo (on the left). The painted figures thus mirrored the real guests as they dined.

How to get to the next stop:

Leave the room on the right. Pass through rooms 43 to 49. Then follow the signs to the exit, which will take you to elevator C in room 64.

 

Author(s) :

Magali Simon, Cyrille Gouyette