I was thinking of artworks figuring food, from ancient mural paintings and mosaics to French pastels, and at the same time wondering why there are so few drawings in pen and ink or chalk of food. I was thinking especially of all the brilliant Spanish still-life paintings with fruits, and so many cardoons and sweetmeats that have passed through the auctions in recent years. And, I haven’t seen any preparatory drawings. Maybe there were losses or maybe the artists skipped drawing or maybe I just don’t know of them. I was thinking the same thing about all the long tables full of every kind of food in Dutch paintings and then the mountains of fish in Neapolitan paintings.
There are magnificent drawings in tempera, watercolor, and pastel of fruits and vegetables. Giovanni da Udine, Jacopo Ligozzi, Giovanna Garzoni, Joris Hoefnagel, and Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin are some of the artists who worked with these materials. Color makes sense–so much of the appeal of food comes from its color. (Modern grocers know this. See their tricky use of tinted plastic wraps around fruits and vegetables.) Fruits themselves, naturally for millions of years, and through cultivation for thousands of years, have become progressively more colorful and captivating. It is through color that they attract the eater, and spread their seeds. From what little I know of biology, this is the point of living.
Below are a few drawings I found that depict food, and that make limited use of color. The blackberries by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) should probably be considered a natural history study. Leonardo wasn’t thinking of the blackberries so much as something to eat, but was interested in how the flowers transformed themselves into fruit. It seems unlikely that a stem of blackberries would have fully ripened fruit and flowers at the same time. However beautiful it is, it is a scientific drawing.
Abraham Bloemaert (1564-1651) often drew cabbages. There is probably nobody in the history of the world who loved cabbages as much, or drew them as well.
When food gets to the table, it is often annoyingly hard to tell what it is they’re eating. Color provides so many clues and just what the satyrs in the drawing by Giandomenico Tiepolo (1727-1804) are supping on is a mystery.