To celebrate the recent 140th birthday of New York's most magnificent museum, we selected some of our favorite food-related pieces in the Met's collection -- which is online in its entirety, so there goes your afternoon -- and paired them, naturally, with something to eat.
We needed a little help navigating one of the country's largest museums, so we turned to an expert. "Looking at art in the context of food makes it so much more accessible," says Maite Gomez-Rejón, founder and owner of ArtBites in Los Angeles. She's worked in the education departments of plenty of museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and MoMA, but it wasn't until she developed a class for 92Y tracing the history of food through the Met's collection that she saw something click. "Suddenly, people became much more engaged and animated. Art immediately became relatable," she says.
Have a favorite food-related piece at the Met that we didn't include? Let us know by leaving a comment. For more art-centric musings, browse our archives.
Model Granary from the Tomb of Meketre
Middle Kingdom, Dynasty 12, early reign of Amenemhat I, ca. 1981-1975 B.C.
From Egypt, Upper Egypt; Thebes, Southern Asasif, Tomb of Meketre (TT 280, MMA 1101), serdab, MMA excavations, 1920
Wood, plaster, paint, linen, grain
L. 74.9 (29 1/2 in); W. 56 cm (22 1/16 in); H. 36.5 (14 3/8 in); average height of figures: 20 cm (7 7/8 in.)
Rogers Fund and Edward S. Harkness Gift, 1920
Bakers and Brewers from Meketre's Model Bakery
Middle Kingdom, Dynasty 12, reign of Amenemhat I, ca. 1975 B.C.
Egyptian; From the tomb of Meketre, western Thebes
Plastered and painted wood; H. of tallest figure 7 1/8 in. (18 cm)
Rogers Fund and Edward S. Harkness Gift, 1920.
As if pyramids and mummy tombs weren't mystery novel fodder to begin with, these models (and 22 more) were discovered in a secret chamber. The accessible rooms had been plundered in Antiquity, but in 1920, cleaning out debris to formulate a floor plan of the tombs, the Museum's excavator Herbert Winlock discovered the models -- thousands of years old and in perfect condition.
"They believed in the afterlife," Maite explained, and they were buried with the goods they wanted on the other side. These models demonstrate priorities we can understand more than 4,000 years later. "They would always have bread, and they would always have beer in the afterlife."
Writers, beer-drinkers, and carb-lovers, take note of the four scribes in the granary model. Two are writing on papyrus scrolls, and two use wooden writing boards.
"Writing was originally invented to record the collection and distribution of grain, beer and bread," Maite said. "Going back before the Egyptian hieroglyphs to cuneiform. That's why writing exists, basically."
Pair With: "Hummus, pita, and a really good beer."
Pieter Bruegel the Elder (Netherlandish, Breda (?) ca. 1525-1569 Brussels)
Oil on wood
Overall, including added strips at top, bottom, and right, 46 7/8 x 63 3/4 in. (119 x 162 cm); original painted surface 45 7/8 x 62 7/8 in. (116.5 x 159.5 cm)
Rogers Fund, 1919.
"'The Harvesters' is such a beautiful painting," Maite said. "It's this beautiful slice of life."
Prior to this 16th century painting, landscapes used religion as their pretext. No God, no clouds. But this painting is all about real, human life, at a time when the Dutch functioned as the granary of Europe.
"These are working class people. They're working on the wheat, and then they're sitting down, enjoying their bread, enjoying each other. If you look on the left hand side, in the wheat, there's a jug that's keeping cool. I love the guy that's napping. It gives everything this the human element. It just sort of shows this abundance."
Pair With: Bread, butter and cheese. (And why not? More beer.)
Mid-Atlantic, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States
Pressed glass, diamond thumbprint
H. 9 3/4 in. (24.8 cm); Diam. 5 1/4 in. (13.3 cm)
Gift of Mrs. Emily Winthrop Miles, 1946
Imagine a different time: a time when Pittsburgh was a glamour town and the wilting stalks in your vegetable drawer were a symbol of prestige. Then you begin to understand this vase.
"Celery were considered a status food," Maite explained. In the Victorian era, an intricate blown glass celery vase would have been a required ornament to the fashionable dinner table. "They would put them in iced water and put celery stalks on the table. Every fine dinner set contained a celery vase. Isn't that cool?" By the beginning of the 20th century, celery had begun to recline flat on plates when served, and soon after, industrial agriculture made celery cultivation outside the hothouse possible, robbing the green of its elevated station.
Pair With: Ranch dressing or pimento cheese.
Photos courtesy of Flickr/John St John Photography and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.