Bread in Art

We know that bread was first made by the ancient Egyptians as far back as the year 8000BC when grains, cultivated on the fertile banks of the River Nile were ground by hand to make flat bread. Over the centuries, farmers across Europe started to grow grains for bread as it became a staple in the diet. The oldest record of bread in Ireland was also a flat bread, dating back to the Stone Age. As bread became part of everyday life, so too did it start to appear in vernacular art, in cave drawings, on the walls of Egyptian pyramids, and in paintings right up to the present day.

We know that bread was made in ancient Pompeii and there is a fresco (1) from the House of the Baker or Casa del Forno (c.79 BC) which depicts the distribution of bread by a political candidate or politician, to try to win the popularity of the voters.

A study (2) of 750 paintings depicting food over the last 500 years found that over 56% of paintings examined included bread. In the 36 Renaissance Period paintings assessed, 86% of them depicted bread. Bread was a very important part of everyday life, providing a rich source of daily nutrition and this is reflected in the art of the period.

Vermeer, Van Gogh, Velasquez, Dali (“Le Pain”), Jasper Johns (“Bread”, 1969), and others have all included bread in their paintings, either as a central piece in a still life or as part of a larger piece. Of course, one of the most famous paintings of all that included bread (& wine) is “The Last Supper” by Leonardo da Vinci.

The artistic and cultural relevance of bread is as strong today as ever, in fact, in 2013, the artist Abigail O’Brien (4,5) had an interesting exhibition of photographs, sculpture and video in the Highlanes Gallery in Drogheda called “With Bread”. The Artist’s interest in bread, its elemental properties, “the magical process that takes place in its making, its centrality in human daily life across race and culture and religion, its familial, social and cultural importance, and its rich symbolism”, spans some twenty years.

It is clear that bread in all shapes and forms continues to inspire the world of art, reflecting its cultural dietary importance around the world.

Our image shows “Bread and Knife” by Walter Kuhn, 1934.

For more read:

  1. Sale of Bread in Pompeii -
  2. Study report -
  3. With Bread exhibition -
  4. With Bread 2013 video -
  5. Bread & Art -
  6. Empty Easel
  7. Jasper Johns “Bread” 1969
  8. Diego Velasquez “Luncheon” 1617
  9. Vincent Van Gogh “Plate of Rolls” 1887
  10. “The Milkmaid”, Johannes Vermeer, c. 1660
  11. “Bread and Knife” by Walter Kuhn, 1934