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Compare Duccio's "Last Supper" (1308-11A D) with Tiziano Vecellio Titan's (1544 AD). Note how the size of the food, bread, and plates on the table compare with the size of the heads of Jesus and his disciples.

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Entree Size: Click for larger figurefigure 1

For both entree portion size and "bread-by-head" ratios, there was a big increasing trend starting around 1500 AD/CV

Bread Size: Click for larger figurefigure 2

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Brian Wansink Brian Wansink, PhD Cornell University
Craig Wansink Craig Wansink, PhD Virginia Wesleyan College
Thanks also to Audrey Cohen and Becky Vayo for data coding and to Darcy Steeg and Mitsuru Shimizu (Ph.D.) for data analysis. This research was self-funded.

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Virginia Wesleyan College

Cornell's Food and Brand Lab

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Both portion sizes and plate sizes have increased by over 65% in these paintings, according to Wansink (Photo by Jason Koski, Cornell Press).

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ITHACA, NY: Were the twelve apostles guilty of overeating at the Last Supper? Two brothers—an eating behavior expert and a religious studies scholar—are publishing findings that might make you think twice at your Easter dinner.

Brian and Craig Wansink teamed up to analyze the amount of food depicted in 52 of the best-known paintings of the Last Supper (Phaidon Press 2000). After indexing the sizes of the foods by the sizes of the average disciple’s head, they found that portion size, plate size, and bread size increased dramatically over the last one thousand years. Overall, the main courses depicted in the paintings grew by 69%, plate size by 66%, and bread size by 23%.

The study’s findings are published in the April 2010 issue of the International Journal of Obesity.

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Click to freely reproduce with credit

“I think people assume that increased serving sizes, or ‘portion distortion,’ is a recent phenomenon,” said Brian Wansink, professor and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab. “But this research indicates that it’s a general trend for at least the last millennium.” As food's become more and more available for less and less money, portion sizes have gotten bigger. Cheap, available food is probably something we should celebrate.

“As the most famously depicted dinner of all time, the Last Supper is ideally suited for review,” said Craig Wansink, professor of religious studies at Virginia Wesleyan College.

“The method we used created a natural crossroads between our two divergent fields and a wonderful opportunity to collaborate with my brother,” he added.

Portion size and spatial relationships are familiar topics in Brian Wansink’s work in food and eating behavior. In his book Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, he explores the hidden cues that determine what, when, and how much we eat.

Craig Wansink specializes in New Testament studies and is the author of Chained in Christ: The Experience and Rhetoric of Paul’s Imprisonments.

For more information, contact Craig Wansink at 757-412-7467 or the Cornell Food and Brand Lab at

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Last Supper, plate, plate size, obesity, history, art, da Vinci, fat, portion size, bread size, bread by head ratio, indexing, content analysis, historical paintings