2017 ESNA Conference: Food, glorious food


ESNA Conference 2017
Food, glorious food: Food at the heart of nineteenth-century art
June 8-9, 2017
Antwerp, Museum Aan de Stroom (MAS)

Organized by ESNA (European Society for Nineteenth-Century Art) and MAS (Museum Aan de Stroom) Antwerp, in conjunction with the exhibition ANTWERP À LA CARTE which looks at the intimate relationship between food and the city.

This symposium intends to study the various and complex relations between food, the experience of eating, and nineteenth-century art. Although food has always been a subject in the arts, the modes of production, distribution and consumption of nourishment changed radically during the course of the nineteenth century. Elaborate culinary experiences – which until then had been the prerogative of royalty and the aristocracy – became readily available for a much larger audience, who could dine in restaurants or feast upon descriptions of meals in culinary journals or columns in the popular press. Food decisively entered the public sphere and consciousness in cities where  new sites of consumption in the form of mouth-watering food shops and restaurants emerged. At the same time food became a marker of national identity, of gender identity, of ‘taste’, of affluence, and of social and economic status.

Modern phenomena such as industrialization, liberalization of the market, urbanization, rise of the middle class, issues of nationality and gender, leisure time and economic upheaval affected the gastronomic field as well as the depiction of it in the visual arts. The term gastronomy in itself is a nineteenth-century invention, referring to the intellectual discourse about taste and consumption. Culinary literature contained contributions by the journalistic elite, including established art critics and caricaturists writing or illustrating for the burgeoning daily and weekly presses and producing a shared language around consumption. This new fascination for food was reflected in the entire panoply of the artistic field, ranging from recipes, food literature, decorative arts and interior design to works of art and art criticism.

NB. The conference programme will be announced in March.

Organizing and scientific committee: Leen Beyers (MAS, Antwerp), Allison Deutsch (University College London), Maite van Dijk (Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam), Mayken Jonkman (RKD-Netherlands Institute for Art History, The Hague), Lisa Smit (Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam)

Scientific committee: Jan Dirk Baetens (Radboud University Nijmegen), Rachel Esner (University of Amsterdam), Jenny Reynaerts (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam), Marjan Sterckx (Ghent University), Ilja van Damme (University of Antwerp).


The ANTWERP A LA CARTE exhibition at the MAS looks at the intimate relationship between food and the city. The daily supply and sale of food, the urban kitchen and the consumption of food, and waste processing all determine the city’s growth and shape. The port city of Antwerp for centuries has also owed its unique appearance to food. The Antwerp à la carte exhibition takes a closer look at the history of the city of Antwerp, following the surprising, tortuous and often invisible trail of food in the city.

The exhibition takes visitors on a tour of old markets and supermarkets, peeking into inns, pubs and restaurants, presenting contemporary takes on sixteenth-century recipes and diving into cesspits to reconstruct people’s menus. Food has shaped the appearance of the city and the urban culture for centuries, and the exhibition highlights this with masterpieces by some of Antwerp’s greatest painters as well as contemporary art installations, photography and rare kitchen utensils. The exhibition shows the impact of food for the past, but also raises questions about the future, questioning how cities will be fed, when by 2050 seven out of ten of the earth’s inhabitants will have left rural lands in order to live in cities.

Visit the museum’s website for more information about ANTWERP A LA CARTE.