The Faces of Fatness in Early Modern Europe

  • Sara Benninga Doctoral student, Hebrew University of Jerusalem Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, Jerusalem


Since the beginning of Christianity the body, and lack of control over it, were perceived as a site of sin. St. Augustine, for example, struggled with the temptations of the senses, seeking control of his mind over the urges of his body. St. Thomas Aquinas viewed immoderate eating and drinking as gluttonous. This sinful perception of the body was clearly developed in artistic depictions. Gluttony was often represented by a fat figure. In early modern Europe, the negative appraisal of the fat body was further related to heathen customs, and to violation of the accepted social norms and hierarchy.

This paper focuses on images from 15th and 16th century northern Europe, delineating the negative visual approach towards the fat body. From representations of the sin of Gluttony to the depiction of peasants around the time of the German peasant wars, this paper follows the negative portrayal of the fat body and its different religious, social and political meanings.