Long, long, ago in the year 2009, I graduated from the University at Albany, SUNY, with an undergraduate degree in art history. I went in as a biochemistry major and ended up in art history, mostly by way of a truly exceptional class taught by Amy Bloch on the early Italian Renaissance. I don't exaggerate when I tell you walking into a dark lecture hall only lit by the image on the screen used to give me butterflies. I'm pretty sure being that excited about learning something is exactly how education should be. I chased that feeling, changed my major, and concentrated my studies on Renaissance art. From then on I approached art history with blinders on. Fresco-drenched, sculpture-laden, Medici-molded, Italian Renaissance blinders. I can pretty confidently walk you through the history of art through a western lens and throw down some knowledge when we hit the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. But when it comes to the rest of the world and to the theories that influence how we are taught and learn art history in the first place, my knowledge becomes a bit fuzzy.
Fast forward a few years later and I'm in graduate school studying Gastronomy because I can't leave the liberal arts alone. My interest in understanding the world has taken a decidedly food-heavy bent. I concentrate of food media, study food and imagery, and even find myself in a survey art history class that centers on food. This time I'm closer to understand food and art together but I am made acutely aware of how little I know about the fundamentals of theory being applied. Today, I'm finally doing something about it.
Dinner with Panofsky is an endeavor to reteach myself art history. This time I'm taking a global, thematic approach in addition to a chronological one. One school of thought I'll be drawing on is iconology. Simply put, iconology is the study of the visual symbols (iconography) in a work of art. It's why we think of Christianity when we see a cross and it's basically what the fictional Robert Landon of The Da Vinci Code fame uses to solve crime. The German art historian, Erwin Panofsky, is credited with creating this methodology for interpreting art. We're having dinner with him because I couldn't come to art history being who I am today and leave food out of it. So Dinner With Panofsky is also a food blog, though not in the traditional sense (no recipes here, though if you are looking for that sort of thing may I point you in the direction my other projects here and here.) Food will be considered when it plays the role of subject, symbol, icon, or influencer. Given food's twofold status as a basic human need/right and cuisine’s status as manifestations of culture, it ends up being more relevant and interconnected than you'd think.
On a final note, I had to ask myself why art history is worth studying (again!) and why it's worth devoting such a large swath of my personal time to learning (again!). Beyond the honest answer of finding it endlessly interesting is something a touch more profound. Art, like cooking, and subsequently cuisine, is a decidedly human phenomenon. It's what we do that no other creature does. In exploring it, understanding it, codifying it, and challenging the norms that currently exist about it, we are likely to reveal something elemental about our nature, desires, potential, and future.